Pitching With Confidence

Ole Miss continues to pitch it well. As a matter of fact, the Rebels' staff has done so maybe even better than most would have predicted.

One reliever who has stepped up when called upon is senior right-handed pitcher Eric Callender. The Baton Rouge native and Meridian Community College product has seen mound time in six games so far.

And the 6-foot-4, 210-pounder has been successful. His ERA is a stellar 1.93. He's pitched 9.1 innings, allowing two runs to score, picking up a save along the way, with seven strikeouts and three walks.

"It's definitely been different than last year," said Callender, who, along with much of the pitching staff, found the going rough in 2010. "I think it has a lot to do with just having that year of experience under your belt at this caliber of baseball. My confidence level is up just because of the ‘been there, done that' kind of thing."

Last season, after Drew Pomeranz was finished with his once a week performances on Friday nights and with the exception of closer Brett Huber, the Ole Miss pitching staff struggled. Jake Morgan was injured and rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. A lot of new players were having to step in, and some found the step up tough. Callender included.

His record was good, 4-1. But his ERA was high, 6.19. He made 24 appearances with one start and had three saves.

This year, at least so far, things are better.

"I'm more even keel and not so up and down emotionally. I think it's easier to perform for that reason," Callender said. "In the offseason, the coaches and I worked on my breaking ball more. It's more consistent this year, which has given me more success, too. It's another pitch to keep the hitters off balance. I think that's helped a lot.

"I've pitched a curve ball my whole life, and last year I threw a slider," he continued. "I went back to the curve ball (this year), and I worked on it harder during the offseason. I picked it apart, and got my curve ball back. It's been more consistent."


Callender has shown improvement this season
Bruce Newman
Callender said some tweaks have been effective for him this season.

"I did change my grip on the curve ball, but it's been more just mental notes when I'm pitching," he said. "Like more what to tell myself when I'm throwing it. Just small things like timing. That's about it."

Callender throws a fast ball, curve ball, and a changeup. He says having three effective pitches is a plus.

"I used to hit back in the day," he said. "If a pitcher had three pitches, it was definitely a weapon, because there's so many options you can throw. If you have only two, it's a 50-50 chance that you know what they're going to throw. So it does help having a third pitch."

As a whole, the Rebel pitching staff as been superb this season, especially lately. In the last 36 innings over four games, Ole Miss pitchers have allowed just one run. And that was a last-inning score on a wacky situation Sunday against Lipscomb in a 5-1 Rebel win. All things considered, there shouldn't have been a Bison run scored all weekend after 8-0 and 3-0 victories on Friday and Saturday.

Then came an 8-0 win this midweek against Jackson State. Now the real season begins, as some might say. It's Southeastern Conference time as Alabama arrives.

Callender believes the pitching staff is up to the task at hand and for the next three months.

"With all those zeroes we've been throwing up on the scoreboard lately, a lot of that has to do with the walks," said Callender, meaning, obviously, the lack thereof. "Our walks have been way down. Like one a game or something, and ten strikeouts. And when we do give up runs, if you look back at the walks, the walks are usually up. So I think pitchers attacking the strike zone and going right at hitters instead of pitching around them has helped."

Pitching notes:

The ERA for the Rebels' weekend starters is impressive. Matt Crouse has a 1.67, David Goforth a 2.42, and Austin Wright a 2.66. Closer Jake Morgan has yet to give up an earned run with his perfect 0.00 ERA in 15 innings. Morgan has a 2-0 record with four saves in six appearances.

R.J. Hively and Bobby Wahl get closer to returning day by day. Although it is projected to still be a while until Wahl is able to pitch for the Rebels, Hively could see some mound time in an actual game before too much longer. It won't be this weekend against the Crimson Tide, but his hope is to be able to help out by the Tennessee weekend on the road March 25-27.


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