By: Jeff Roberson
Every baseball season I’ve ever covered, and that’s a quarter century now, there are times like these. There’s a new starter in the series finale, and his name we’ve heard about for a while now.
Every year it might be different. One year when the Rebels were reeling and going nowhere, it seemed, they went to Georgia with a 1-5 SEC record. And Mike Bianco sent Craig Rodriguez out to start the Friday night game. Some considered that maybe a risk, but at that point what did it matter? He had the talent, and now he had the chance. Rodriguez pitched well, the Rebels won the game, swept the series, and Miami came to Oxford in June for a Super Regional.
That’s just one example, but to me it’s always been the best example of how things change and move during a baseball season. I texted Crod, still a media favorite here, about that winning night in Georgia just last month. Hard to believe it’s been ten years.
Now a decade later, things are on the move again. This time? James McArthur is your guy. He won’t start game one but game three. Brady Bramlett is on for tonight and David Parkinson (there’s another example of a mid-season change in roles) is back out for game two.
Back in fall ball the name James McArthur kept coming up. Coaches talked highly of him and his ability. Fans who went to some practices said he might just be special. Bianco said, in some form or another, he could end up being one of the best ever here, and time would tell.
Then came a foot injury in December that sidelined the freshman righty from New Branufels, Texas, for the better part of the Christmas break and beyond. He wasn’t going to be a weekend starter come February. And when something sidelines a player, there’s always “next” to step up. And so the return of Sean Johnson from surgery and recovery last year, plus new transfer Chad Smith were the guys.
But, like back in 2006 and in a lot of other instances, here we are at almost May, and the starters now are Bramlett, Parkinson, and McArthur. I like the three. They give the Rebels a chance in every game.
Ole Miss needs solid pitching because this team has shown it isn’t a great offensive ballclub. In eight of its games, all losses, the Rebels have scored one run or no runs. The pitching staff is talented enough and deep enough to lift them every time. But sometimes pitching and defense can’t hold an opposing team to a run or two.
The latest example is a midweek game at Pearl and a 2-0 loss to MSU on Tuesday. Last week in five games they scored at least six runs in all of them. Just when you think maybe the offense is coming around, there’s one of those nights again.
After 42 games, they are basically who they are offensively. Not bad. Not great. Just not going to normally score a lot and sometimes not at all.
With a RPI this morning of seven, a 31-11 record and 10-8 SEC mark, they’re OK in all those categories. But now the focus is LSU and a huge three games against the Tigers, beginning tonight.
LSU isn’t invincible but they are good again. At 27-14 and 10-8, with a 4-1 midweek loss at Tulane, the Tigers enter Swayze likely still trying to figure a few things out about themselves, too. It was the second loss to the Green Wave. They lost 7-1 in Baton Rouge earlier this season. And last weekend LSU dropped two at home to MSU.
Bottom line. Both Ole Miss and LSU need to win this series. Hosting a Regional could hang in the balance for both when those site selections are made in a month.
If the Rebels do win one or two games before Saturday morning - (11 a.m. baseball? Feels like Hoover start times.) – game three of this series should be fun. And with James McArthur on the mound, you have to like Ole Miss’ chances.
It’s a role we thought we might see him in as far back as last fall. But time and circumstance can change things during a college baseball season, and always do.
Just ask Craig Rodriguez about that trip to Athens in ’06 the next time you see him at Swayze.