Ole Miss 1B/3B Colby Bortles (Photo credit: Josh McCoy)

Five Things to Watch as Ole Miss Returns to Action Against Arkansas-Pine Bluff

Ole Miss looks to avoid and RPI-killing loss as it faces Arkansas-Pine Bluff in the start of a four-game homestand.

Here are five things to watch tonight as things to watch as the Rebels return home.

1. Cooper Johnson behind the plate- Mike Bianco said on Tuesday that Johnson will get the start behind the plate after being benched over the last couple of weeks in favor of Nick Fortes because this lineup needs as much offense as it can get. Johnson has just seven hits on the season, and Bianco noted that this is really the first time in his career he's dealt with this kind of struggle. Bianco had high praise for how Johnson has handled all of this.

"He's done well, and it's tough," Bianco said. "Especially on guys that are as talented as him, they've never been in this position. They've never struggled and they've never sat. It's tough. He will start on Wednesday because we've got to get him back out there. It happens. He hasn't played well, and obviously Nick has played as well as anyone on the team."

He's shown how talented he is defensively, but the bat has got to come along. It will be interesting to see what he does with an opportunity today.

2. Greer Holston on the mound- He's coming off of six innings of two-hit, shutout baseball against a ranked Southern Miss team. When Holston has been able to harness his command, and not get himself in trouble with free passes early in innings, he's been effective. He's one of a number of freshmen pitchers that have pitched well and grown up quickly. He's settled into this midweek role nicely and has played a factor in two of Ole Miss' best RPI wins this season.

3. Avoiding an RPI pitfall- The Rebels' currently sits solidly at 40. It is 6-11 agains the RPI top 50, and 16-3 against teams with an RPI above 50.  They have one 200 plus RPI loss, and that came against Georgia State that came in what was arguably the worst stretch of baseball Ole Miss has played this season. It simply cannot afford to absorb a loss to the Golden Lions' whose RPI sits at a whopping 273. UAPB did beat a woeful Alabama team this year, and are 9-8 in the SWAC. Ole Miss should handle this game with ease, and would do well to throw some runs on the board early to remove any anxiety.

4. UAPB starter Nathan Sawrie- The righty the best pitcher on this team, and is a transfer from Arkansas Baptist Community College. He's got an upper 80's fastball with a good change up and a decent breaking ball. He's not going to do anything unorthodox to surprise the Rebels, who have faired better against right-handers this season.

5. Bottom of the lineup- Bianco noted on practice Monday that the bottom of the order needs to get going. Even in the Rebels' 4-1 win in Baton Rouge last Friday, all of the damage came from the first five hitters. The bottom of the order was 1-13 with eight strikeouts. If Ole Miss is going to solve its run production issues, look nowhere else but here, because the top of the order hasn't been an issue. Obviously, it will be hard to gauge a lot from the game today, but it is something to keep an eye on. 

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