Batter Up!

The Ole Miss baseball players start rolling back into Oxford next week, and that means one thing for sure. Preseason practice for the 2011 season is just around the corner.

The Rebels are coming off another NCAA Tournament season, but the 2010 campaign wasn't up to the usual standard those associated with the program are accustomed to. The Rebels weren't even one of the last two standing in the Charlottesville Regional and were sent packing early.

Gone is Drew Pomeranz, the fifth pick of the June draft. Most seasons the Rebel coaches of this era have known who their Friday night starter would be, all the way back to Pete Montrenes, through Mark Holliman and Lance Lynn, then Pomeranz, the highest draft pick in Ole Miss baseball history.

So that begs the question: Who will the Friday night starter be? Or in this year's case we might ought to call him the first-game starter since with the new ESPN contract there are three series that begin on Thursday – Mississippi State at home and at Auburn and Arkansas. The series in Fayetteville is actually Thursday-Saturday because it wraps up the regular season.

Tanner Mathis

It was in Fayetteville two seasons ago that Ole Miss swept the series to win the Southeastern Conference. The Rebels didn't have the depth among its pitchers last season to compete for a title. That should be improved this season with the return of Jake Morgan from injury/surgery and with a host of newcomers, both freshmen and junior college transfers.

As to the first-game starter question, Matt Crouse had the best numbers of the fall with an ERA of 0.95. January and February, prior to the season opener on Feb. 18, will go a long way toward determining if Crouse is the guy or another Rebel pitcher gets the ball first.

Like David Goforth. He might not be the Friday night starter, but he is a potential weekend starter. He's added a cutter to his arsenal. He admits the new, NCAA-mandated bats will help a guy like him, keeping some home runs as just long outs.

I'll have some stories the next few days with some key role players, all veterans, just to whet your appetite as the new calendar year unfolds. Goforth is one of them I'll be writing about. He was second only to Crouse in the fall with a 2.37 ERA.

I also talked to Matt Snyder, Matt Smith, and Tanner Mathis. Snyder's shoulder is about 100 percent, he's worked hard rehabbing it after surgery, and he wants to play first base again.

Smith is hoping for his best season yet in red and blue and says he believes he can still hit them out of the park with those new bats.

Mathis, who spent a lot of time in center field this fall, was the team's leading hitter over the seven weeks of workouts with an impressive .420 average.

It's the last day of 2010. With no bowl game for the football Rebels, basketball is center stage, as it should be.

But baseball talk is always of interest for Ole Miss fans, and the players are ready to talk about the upcoming season themselves.

Stay tuned for much more in the days ahead.

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