Tennessee baseball gets waiver for Vanderbilt Ethan Smith transfer

Tennessee baseball received some good news two days before its season opener.

Vanderbilt transfer pitcher Ethan Smith is eligible for the Flights after getting a waiver from the NCAA, according to a source with direct knowledge of the situation. Smith was 8-0 with a 2.78 ERA in 31 appearances in three seasons with the Commodores. He struck out 88 in 64⅔ innings.

Tennessee’s No. 16 opens Tony Vitello’s fifth season with a three-game series against Georgia Southern at Lindsey Nelson Stadium. Game 1 is Friday (4:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network+).

Smith immediately bolsters a pitching staff that was hurt by ace throw Blade Tidwell and Missouri transfer Seth Halvorsen. Smith can either start or be a reliever. The former Mount Juliet star served both roles at Vanderbilt.

Vitello praised Smith’s off-speed pitching as a reliever on Feb. 2, but didn’t rule out the possibility of Smith starting.

“You could really use that as an out of the bullpen guy where you probably come to get us out of a jam,” Vitello said of Smith’s repertoire. “When you can get quality off-speed gear, it really, really helps. He has experience closing games and getting out of the bullpen in crucial situations.”

Smith didn’t pitch for two months last season after suffering from COVID-19 and struggling when he returned to action in mid-April. Smith started four games as a sophomore during the 2020 season. He pitched at least five innings in three of four starts.

If Smith is in the bullpen, he will join Ben Joyce as key additions. Joyce is known for a wide-ranging fastball. He missed last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Returnees Redmond Walsh, Kirby Connell and Will Mabrey are among UT’s bullpen options.

Freshman Chase Burns, who declined to be one of the first MLB draft picks to come to UT, and Georgia Southern transfer Chase Dollander are probably the best starting pitchers for Flights entering the season. Senior Camden Sewell is a potential starter but could miss opening weekend with a right hand injury after a football hit his fingers.

Tidwell, a projected first-round pick in the 2022 MLB Draft, is out indefinitely with shoulder pain. Vitello expects Tidwell to pitch for UT this season. Halvorsen, who transferred from Missouri, suffered a broken right arm in mid-January. Vitello expects Halvorsen to recover by mid-season.

Mike Wilson covers University of Tennessee athletics. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @ByMikeWilson. If you like Mike’s cover, consider a digital subscription which will allow you to access all of this.

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