Working for the Weekend

Matt Crouse ended the fall as the best pitcher statistically on the Ole Miss staff. Certainly that has given the junior left-hander a lift heading into preseason practice next week.

"The fall gave me a lot of confidence," he said. "Every time I went out there I felt better and better."

Crouse had a stellar 0.95 ERA in 19 innings during the fall. He struck out 25 and walked only two. He gave up just two runs on nine hits in 69 batters faced.

Those were impressive numbers to lead a pitching staff that doesn't have a Drew Pomeranz in its lineup but has more depth than a season ago.

"One big thing for me was just getting to pitch as much as I did in the fall," said the Haymarket, Va., native. "Last year I didn't get to pitch a whole lot in the fall because I was hurt. Just having the experience in the spring of seeing SEC hitters and also working on some stuff during the summer up in the Cape (Cod) helped a lot. And I just kept working to get better."

Crouse had a torn meniscus in his left knee in the fall of 2009 and had scope surgery. He pitched just seven innings that fall, and his recovery time was about three weeks after the surgery. But it all left him behind heading into preseason practices for 2010.

"I was completely over it by the season, and I felt like I got better as the year went on," said Crouse, who had pitched his freshman season at Young Harris College in Georgia. "I thought the LSU series was my turning point. I got some good experience under my belt in a big-time SEC game. And I definitely had a bunch of confidence after that."

Matt Crouse

It was the second game of the series in Oxford, a Saturday night contest that was part of a doubleheader. Friday night's game had been rained out. Crouse came in to pitch in the ninth inning. The Rebels won that game 9-8 in 11 innings as Alex Yarbrough drove in Matt Smith with a walk-off RBI single. Ole Miss swept the series with a Sunday win.

Crouse went the final 2.2 innings to get the win in that second Saturday game, allowing only one hit with one walk and four strikeouts. It was a confidence boost that Crouse carried the rest of the season and into the summer and fall.

Crouse had a 3.74 ERA for the 2010 spring and a 5-1 record in 53 innings pitched. He made 21 appearances, six of them starts.

This preseason he is certainly one of those in the mix to become a weekend starter. Crouse said that's where he'd like to be.

"I think it's all still up in the air," he said. "I think we've got a bunch of guys that are trying to fit into that weekend role. The preseason intrasquads will help determine that."

Crouse said there are several pitchers who could step in.

"I like the situation of not having too much already set going in and having a lot of guys competing for spots," he said. "I think that just makes everybody better. There are nine or ten guys that are going to pitch a lot this year, and we're pretty talented. So I'm excited about the staff."

Crouse is 6-foot-4 and pitched last spring at 178 pounds. He's up to 190 now, and previously keeping weight on was a problem. He says now that doesn't seem to be the case.

"I've been in the weight room and I've kept on eating well so I can keep my weight up," he said. "My weight has been a challenge. This year I don't know what's happened but I've been keeping it on. It's been easier this year. I don't know what's really going on with it. Hopefully I can keep it up. Keeping it up there during the preseason and getting ready for the season when we do a lot of running is the toughest part."

Crouse believes he's better on the mound than ever. His numbers certainly show that.

"I throw a fast ball, curve ball, and a changeup," he said. "My fast ball and changeup worked well for me last year. I've worked on my curve ball this year, trying to throw it a little harder. It got better as the fall went on, and we'll see if it gets better in the spring."

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