Early Impact

Ole Miss was looking for a few good left-handed pitchers. They found one in Matt Denny.

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The 6-foot-1, 215-pound freshman from Jackson has been an important factor in the sixth-ranked Rebels' rise to an 18-1 start. Denny's made seven appearances with a 0.77 ERA in 11.2 innings. The Jackson Academy graduate is pleased with how things have gone so far but not satisfied. Listen as he says so.

"Early in the season I felt really good," said Denny, whose brother, Will, is on the Ole Miss football team and father, Billy, played football for the Rebels. "I felt like I was spotting up and I was really confident with all my stuff. I'm still confident, but the last two outings (prior to Tuesday's night's appearance at Louisiana-Monroe) I wouldn't say I've had difficulty really putting the ball exactly where I want it. But I've been missing here and there with some pitches, just not being consistent with every pitch. I just need to get back to form and work on that."

Against the Warhawks two days ago, Denny relieved starter Josh Laxer in the seventh, had a wild pitch and a hit batter, but also struck out two in five batters faced. That's perhaps some of that "putting the ball exactly where I want it" he speaks of.

But it's obvious Denny is going to be a big part of whatever success the Rebels have this season, at this point coming out of the bullpen, normally following right-handed starters or righty relievers.

"What's really happened with (Denny) is that he's worked with Coach (Carl) Lafferty and T.J. (Beam) in the bullpen, especially since he's been back in January with the breaking ball," Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco said. "Of the left-handers we've got, he's got the best breaking ball. Out of the left-handers we've got, he seems to be the best lefty-lefty matchup out of the bullpen. He's just continued to improve."

Denny said he knew coming in that being a left-hander had its advantages, and that it was a need for this program.

"Coach Lafferty, when he was recruiting me, he said we really need a spot for lefties on the team," Denny said. "He said there were others coming in with me. I knew Dylan Chavez was going to get drafted. So I knew all of us (left-handers) were going to be new. All fall I really tried to work my butt off, because I really wanted to pitch here from the time I was a kid. I came out every day and did my best."

Denny said there are challenges moving from high school pitching and the summers that go along with that to pitching as a college freshman.

Rebs have been able to do this 18 of 19 games this season
Bruce Newman

"Just getting used to the schedule," he said. "You'd play and then you'd have a lot of time for rest (in high school). But here, especially being in the bullpen because I've never been in the bullpen – I always started in high school – now I might throw and be on one or two day rest. It's really just taking care of myself a lot more and just trying to get rest when I can. With classes and tutors and practices and games, it can really speed up on you. But you just have to take one game at a time and one practice at a time and make it work."

Denny has an experienced coaching staff at hand to help him and the other pitchers. Bianco has always coached pitchers, while Lafferty has also always been involved. And now on staff are former pros who played in the Rebel program T.J. Beam and Stephen Head.

Denny said there's another "coach" who also helps him as well.

"The coaches are great and there's so much experience there, and they can help you when one little thing might go wrong. They just know it," he said. "Not only the coaches, but also (catcher) Stuart Turner behind the plate. If your arm slot drops maybe an inch or two and you throw a ball, he knows exactly what's wrong or going on. That really helps us out, too. He's the coach you need when they can't call timeout every five minutes."

Denny said he wants to continue to help this team reach all its goals in his first year in the program.

"It really gives you confidence for the years to come," he said of pitching this early in his college career. "As a freshman, you want to get in there and make your mark. I feel like I've done that, but I want to get better every day. Just try to help this team get where we want to be at the end of the year."

Now Southeastern Conference play begins with the Rebels at No. 11 Arkansas (13-5) this weekend. That's the next big hurdle to get where they want to be. But Denny said they have to try to stay the course that's gotten them to 18-1.

"We know we have to take it one game at a time, so we haven't really thought about (SEC play) much before now," he said. "I've always been a fan here. I've always wanted to play here. SEC is what you think of when you play here.

"But I know I can't get overwhelmed with the SEC, and I just need to pitch like I have been and stay with what I've been doing," he concluded. "Not worry about who we're playing and just try to get outs. We have a lot of confidence in ourselves."

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