A New Role

Bobby Wahl isn't quite ready to admit he's the frontrunner to become the ace of the Ole Miss staff this baseball season. That's even after the successful fall he had and the praise heaped on him by his coaches.

Follow SpiritJeff on Twitter

Not that they have anointed the sophomore to the No. 1 starter spot for weekend series. But it's fairly obvious as skill work sessions begin next week and with preseason team practices only a couple of weeks away, it's likely his job to keep. Not lose.

"He's really kind of taken that role as the No. 1 guy," Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco said of Wahl in November following the fall ball sessions.

Wahl said he's worked toward being in that position, and he trusts his coaches as to what they will ultimately decide for him.

"I feel wherever I'm put on the pitching staff or in the rotation, that's where I need to be," Wahl said. "I trust Coach (Mike) Bianco and his decision making. I feel that no matter who we put out there on Friday night, we have such a deep and great pitching staff that every night, whoever's on that mound is going to compete.

"If I'm the Friday guy, that's great. I believe I'll be able to fill that role," he continued. "But if it's somebody else, that's awesome too, because this pitching staff all believes in each other. We know that no matter who is on the mound, they'll get the job done. That's a great feeling we have as a pitching staff this year."

Wahl, a hard-throwing right-hander who was drafted in the 39th round by the Indians but would have gone substantially higher had he not made it clear he wanted to attend college, said last season prepared him for this season. And not just on the mound either.

"Last season I learned that Ole Miss is definitely a place I want to be," said Wahl, of Springfield, Va. "There were the (early) arm problems (a year ago), and the way the coaches and trainers handled it was great. They really got me back to the level that I needed to be from a physical standpoint. I also learned the atmosphere and the fans were everything Coach (Carl) Lafferty said to me being recruited by Ole Miss. It was more than I could ask for. The positions Coach Bianco put me in were great, how that everything was set up for me to progress as a pitcher, which was awesome.

"It was such a great learning experience," he continued. "You get to play with some of the best players in the country. The competition is second to none. I learned a lot from that and I developed as a person and especially as a pitcher. You can't take a batter off, one through nine. There isn't a night you can take off. Learning from that, heading into this season I'm extremely excited. I'm ready to get going."

Mostly in a closer role last season, Wahl only started one of his 18 appearances and finished with four saves and an 0-2 record. His ERA was 4.80 in 30 innings.

Bobby Wahl
Bruce Newman

He spent the summer in the Cape Cod League and was a teammate of Alex Yarbrough with the Cotuit Kettleers. He made strides during that time and it lifted him into the fall ball sessions. He was still in a relief role, however, with 16 appearances and no starts. He had six saves in 22 innings of work and an impressive 1.23 ERA.

"Everything clicked in the summer and I performed pretty well," said the 6-foot-3, 200-pounder. "I felt pretty good all summer. I was able to bring that into the fall. Just a confidence that I had, and I was able to pitch at a high level."

Wahl said now, however, he has shifted that focus to the role of a starter. There are some adjustments.

"Transitioning from closer to starter, you can't go out there and throw it as hard as you can every single pitch. It doesn't work that way over a long period of time," he said. "Right now I see myself as a location guy that likes to go fast ball first. I'm extremely aggressive and pound the zone with strikes. I'm not afraid if it's a three-hole hitter or a nine-hole hitter. I'm going to stick to my strengths and throw my fast ball when I need to and when I think it's going to work. That's definitely the mindset I have as a pitcher."

There are other aspects that Wahl has tried to improve.

"I've worked on my changeup and slider command this fall more than ever," he said. "I've worked extremely hard, and I know there is always room to improve and get better. My slider, I feel, is a very good pitch right now. So is my changeup. So I just have to continue to work on being a starter and being able to pitch over a longer period of time. Just taking a more methodical approach to the game, hitting spots, and continue to pound the strike zone."

As for the team, Wahl said last season's 30-25 disappointment is behind them. It's all about the upcoming season and pointing toward opening weekend Feb. 17-19 at TCU.

"As a team, we're really committed to being the best we can," he said. "I know we're all excited. We've worked extremely hard and are ready to go."

And that certainly goes for himself, in whatever role he eventually lands with this year's Rebels.

"If Coach Bianco says I'm the No. 1 guy, then that's a great feeling that he has that much trust and belief in me," Wahl said. "I'm just really blessed to be in that situation. But it's up to (the coaches), and we still have the intrasquads (in the preseason). I know everybody on this pitching staff went home and worked extremely hard. I know they got better. It's real exciting to be back. I'm real excited to get back on the mound and prove who I am."

OM Spirit Top Stories