Ready To Help

Tanner Bailey isn't scheduled to make a start this weekend when Top 15-ranked teams Ole Miss and Texas Christian play in Oxford. But he'll pitch.

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The 6-foot-6, 235-pound right-handed senior is likely to be one of the Rebels' top pitchers this season and to log quite a number of innings, perhaps as many as the weekend starters, given his projected role.

What is that role? It remains to be seen throughout the course of a potential four-month season what it will ultimately be. Bailey could be a first-in reliever, in some cases a long reliever that comes in after the starter has finished up a successful outing, or replacing one who falters early in a game.

He could be a midweek starter, and some of that will depend on how much he pitched during a weekend series. And, of course, there is always a potential situation that could arise in which one of the three weekend starters is replaced due to ineffectiveness or injury. If that happens, look for Bailey to be one that's heavily considered.

"I'm ready to go and my arm feels healthy," said Bailey, who made 17 appearances in 2012 which came after a redshirt season in 2011 that was basically a rehab after shoulder surgery. "It looks like I'll be coming out of the bullpen early, which is completely fine with me. I did it all last year. I'm very comfortable there. I know my arm can bounce back from day to day. If (head coach Mike Bianco) needs me to start, or whatever they need me to do, I'll step in and do that to the best of my abilities to help us win."

His numbers were good last season; there just weren't a lot of them. Of those 17 appearances, three were starts. He pitched 32.2 innings with a 2-2 record and a 3.86 ERA. He allowed 14 runs on 21 hits with 35 strikeouts and eight walks.

He'd lettered two years in junior college at Texarkana after a successful high school career at Little Rock Christian where he lettered four years. Bailey said he's 100 percent heading into this season, and that might not have been the case this time last season.

"Last year the first two months of the season I was still feeling it out," he said. "My arm didn't feel as strong with the cooler weather. Going through surgery definitely made my arm a little tighter. Now even when it's 35 degrees outside, my arm feels great."

That's a good thing since it's likely to be cold this weekend and in the early going this season, as usual.

Ole Miss assistant coach Carl Lafferty said Bailey is being counted on heavily by the coaching staff this year.

"He's going to be one of the first guys out of the bullpen because of experience and how well he's pitched," Lafferty said. "And also we look for him to be one of those starters in the midweek as well. We're really excited with the way Tanner's performed. There's experience and maturity. Being an older guy, he's been terrific for the younger players as well."

Tanner Bailey
Bruce Newman

Lafferty said Bailey is now at the top of his game when it comes to pitching.

"He throws from a high three-quarter slot, so he gets some good downhill plane on his fastball," Lafferty said "He really has begun to pitch in well, pitch inside to hitters, and he throws a lot of strikes. He'll throw a curve ball low to mid 70s. He'll throw a hard slider at 82-83. He'll also throw a good changeup. So he's got four pitches that he commands, and he's a very competitive, aggressive guy. That usually translates into a lot of outs."

Bailey indeed has a loaded arsenal of pitches to use.

"Going fast ball in. Dumping a curve ball in there when it's 0-0, 1-0. Just kind of keeping hitters off balance," he said of what he feels like he can do against batters he faces. "I'd say my best pitch would be my slider. That's definitely been the pitch that when I need it, I'll definitely go to it."

Bailey said this pitching staff of the Ole Miss Rebels is strong and deep.

"Definitely got some draft pick type arms that throw hard," he said. "They pound the zone, have great major league type stuff with Bobby Wahl and Mike Mayers. They're definitely two top guys in the country. And Brett Huber is one of the top closers in the country, if not the best."

Bailey said he and his teammates are ready for today and have been for a while.

"For us to come out this year and show what we can do, it's going to be fun," he said of the 13th-ranked Rebs. "We've got the guys that can definitely make a run."

TCU at a glance:

* Today marks TCU's first baseball game as a member of the Big 12 Conference. The Horned Frogs were members of the Southwest Conference from 1923 until that league folded in 1995. Since then they've spent time in the Western Athletic Conference (WAC), Conference USA, and the Mountain West. This school year TCU moved to the Big 12, basically the sports and prestige equivalent of the Southwest Conference from another era.

* Ole Miss and TCU met five times last season and had one more game rained out. The teams split the opening series of the year one game each in Ft. Worth, and the Saturday game was rained out. In the NCAA College Station Regional, Ole Miss won the opener, and TCU closed out the title games with wins.

* The Horned Frogs were 40-22 last season, won the Regional but lost in the UCLA Super Regional to the Bruins in two games.

* TCU, ranked as high as No. 12 this preseason, returns 87 percent of its innings pitched from last season. The staff combined to start 61 of 62 games played and went 33-18 with five saves. They have an ERA of 3.35 as a group. In the offseason, the Frogs added eight pitchers to their roster. Seven of the eight are freshmen.

* All three Frog starters this weekend return from last season – today with sophomore left-hander Brandon Finnegan on the mound, Saturday with sophomore right-hander Preston Morrison, and Sunday with junior right-hander Stefan Crichton.

* The Horned Frogs return 17 letterwinners, led position-wise by sophomore first baseman Kevin Cron, the 6-5, 245-pounder who was a freshman All-American by some publications and is a preseason All-American this season.

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