Here are five things to watch for tonight in the series opener against the seventh-ranked Gators.
1. Alex Faedo- The junior righty will likely be a first round pick in this summer's MLB Draft. He'll flash a three-pitch mix headlined by a mid 90's fastball, and complimented by a wipeout slider that he has very good command of. He also throws a change up, but the slider is his best pitch and is how he misses barrels. Ole Miss has faced its fair share of talented arms this season, but with Vanderbilt's Kyle Wright in mind, Faedo may be the best one the Rebels have faced this season. He's as good as it gets, and runs will be hard to come by.
2. Ryan Olenek's replacement - Olenek did not make the trip down to Gainesville due to a concussion, and will continue to go through testing in Oxford over the weekend. This leaves a hole in the middle of the field as well as in the middle of the order for Ole Miss. The simplest replacement would be to simply plug Kyle Watson into center field and avoid moving anyone else around in a lineup that has finally garnered some stability. But Watson isn't the strongest option at the plate, and so Bianco could try to put Tim Rowe (or Bryan Seamster) into the outfield and slide Golsan into center. Florida will start three right handers, and boasts a righty-heavy bullpen, which bodes well for both Rowe and Seamster to be incorporated in because they hit from the left side of the plate.
As far as the batting order, Olenek had been the clean up hitter for the better part of the last six weeks for this team. But he has not hit as well over the course of the last ten games, and was slotted fifth in the first game against Louisiana-Monroe, and sixth in the second game. Rowe, Nick Fortes and Thomas Dillard will likely all get bumped up a slot with Watson - or Seamster - being slotted somewhere ahead, behind or between Grae Kessinger and Cooper Johnson.
Bianco has a couple of options, and it will be interesting to see which way he goes. But if one thing is certain, it is that the Rebels will miss Olenek.
3. James McArthur- The reigning SEC Pitcher of the Week brushed aside two rocky starts against LSU and Missouri, and tossed an eight inning, one-hit gem a week ago. McArthur looked the part of a truly dominant Friday night SEC arm, and bested Arkansas's Blaine Knight. After last week's win, McArthur talked about making pitches each and every inning he was on the mound. He felt his command had slipped in the previous two starts, and he had a better grasp of keeping balls down and working both sides of the plate in Fayetteville. He's got another challenge this week with Faedo on the other side, but also another opportunity to give the Rebels a leg up in this series.
4. Who will produce at the plate- When Florida has struggled this season, it is because it cannot muster enough run support to fuel one of the best pitching staffs in the country. Ole Miss and Florida are the two worst teams in the conference at the plate. But both are teams that are hitting better in the last month, which is why both teams are trending in the right direction. J.J. Schwartz, Christian Hicks and Dalton Guthrie still provide a good amount of productions in a lineup that doesn't hit a lot of home runs, and Schwartz has overcome a slow start and now leads the team in hits. He hit a grand slam in the eighth inning of the series finale against South Carolina a couple of weeks ago that help clinch a series win, and has the Gators swinging it better at the plate.
Ole Miss is 23-2 when it scores at least four runs, which may be a good indicator of how this series will go for both teams.
5. Home run ball - Ole Miss has used the long ball in its recent stretch of success to produce runs. Nick Fortes, Colby Bortles and Tate Blackman have all had multi-home run games this season, and the Rebels have hit 11 in their last five contests and 23 over the last 17 games. Bortles talked earlier this week about relishing the challenge of Florida's pitching staff, and leaving the yard is a quick way to swing momentum in a game.