Opening Week

Opening week is here. Opening day is Friday. Ole Miss baseball is back.

Eight months removed from the program's first Omaha trip in 42 years, the Rebels are ready to defend, if not a title, then a second trip to the College World Series in two seasons.

“As I’m asked to explain this year’s team, I want to come up with something different,” Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco said as he begins his 15th season with the program. “But it actually seems very similar to last year. We return some big pieces on the field.”

Being “similar to last year” certainly isn’t a bad thing. This time last year Ole Miss wasn’t so sure what type team it was going to field. There were veterans aplenty. But could they have those big years, and many did. Would some newcomers step up, and some did.

“There are some guys back this year who played big roles in us getting to the College World Series,” Bianco said. “Like last year, there is certainly some room for some new guys to step in and help us, to play immediately on opening day.”

Bianco said pitching should be a team strength again.

“On the mound we’re maybe a little different than last year in the sense that last year at this time most of the talk was about the pitching and the starting pitching and maybe the lack of experience,” he said. “This year we return two of the SEC starters from last year (Christian Trent and Sam Smith), along with some experienced guys in the bullpen. Guys like Scott Weathersby and Matt Denny and Wyatt Short.”

Bianco then took us around the field.

“I see it on Friday as Colby Bortles at third base, at shortstop Errol Robinson, at second base true freshman Tate Blackman, and at first base Sikes Orvis. Behind the plate Austin Knight and he will be backed up by Henri Lartigue. And Lartigue could possibly DH on opening day.”

Bianco said Cameron Dishon will get the starting nod in right field, and J.B. Woodman will start in center field. Left field is a bit different as there are several out there to be evaluated.

“Left field is really the question mark as we enter the season. Early on we’ll probably play a lot of guys. You’ll see (junior college transfer) Connor Cloyd out there, along with (another junior college transfer) Josh Watkins. Kyle Watson is also out there, another true freshman. He’s actually an infielder. But he had so good of a fall (and preseason) that we’re trying to get him on the field. He’s a super athlete.”

Bianco mentioned another freshman in Will Golsan, who is a versatile and talented player.

“Will Golsan is going to play in the infield as a backup to start with and could play some in the outfield. I’m excited about all our freshmen."

In addition to the returning relievers, freshman right-hander Will Stokes has impressed and will get a chance to pitch. And Bianco mentioned sophomore left-hander Evan Anderson and junior Jacob Waguespack as potential midweek starters.

Junior college righty Sean Johnson was set to be a weekend starter and could work into that role again. But a tendonitis problem the past month moved him out and he could relieve some this weekend. So far so good in his recovery to date.

Therefore the starting trio of pitchers this weekend will be LHP Christian Trent on Friday, RHP Sam Smith on Saturday, and RHP Brady Bramlett on Sunday.

Bramlett, a third-year sophomore, missed all of last season recovering from labrum (shoulder) surgery. He’s back and perhaps as good as ever. Time will tell.

Some Bianco Bytes:

* On freshman second baseman Tate Blackman, who was chosen as preseason SEC Player of the Year by D-1 baseball: “We think he’s our best option at second base. He doesn’t play like a freshman. Hits, runs, defends.”

* On Bramlett’s return from surgery and rehab: “You don’t know when they come off that injury where they’ll be. He had a really good fall and his three starts in the preseason intrasquads were probably better than any of the starters.”

* On the new baseball traveling farther: “I think the first day out you could see it just in batting practice. Statistically, last fall (2013) we hit 7 home runs. This past fall (2014) we hit 26. We hit 4 home runs in this past Saturday’s intrasquad game. That wasn’t happening with the other ball. I think it’s is a good change for college baseball.”

* On the lineup: “Opening day (the leadoff batter) will be J.B. Woodman. Some of that will be dictated by right-handed or left-handed. I think Errol Robinson will bat second. Sikes Orvis will bat third and Colby Bortles will bat fourth. (DH) Henri Lartigue will bat fifth. After that a lot of it is determined by the right-lefty.”

* On 6-6, 255 freshman left-handed hitter Joe Wainhouse: “He could DH some (this weekend). He hit a home run this past weekend off a left-handed pitcher, and he’s had several hits off left-handed pitching. He’s really come on. As the fall progressed we realized that he looked like he would be ready to play as a freshman.”

* On Colby Bortles: “He’s handled (third base) well all fall and in the preseason. He led the team in home runs in the fall. I think he will be a force in the middle of the lineup.”

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