C.J. Ketchum was called on a few times in 2005 to pinch hit. It seems like he always came through with a clutch single, often driving in a teammate already on base.
Like a RBI single in the bottom of the ninth to beat Georgia 4-3 in game one of a series last season, and a two-RBI single to give the Rebels some late insurance in a 5-0 win over Mississippi State in game two of that series.
As a role player last season, the 6-foot-2, 195-pound Joplin, Mo., native appeared in 28 contests, mostly coming into games late, although he did start in five games as the DH, four at first, two at third, and one in left. It was clear his role would increase this season.
As the heir apparent to Stephen Head at first base, Ketchum had some huge shoes to fill. He's done so more than admirably this season as a sure-handed fielder and consistent hitter.
Ketchum's maturity – he's a 23-year-old junior in eligibility – has been an asset. He's shaken off a miscue or two at first like the veteran he is, and his plate savvy and focus have kept him steady through the first half of the season.
It appears to have been a carryover from last season when he was clutch off the bench. Rebel hitting coach Stuart Lake says Ketchum hits well because his approach and mechanics are simplistic and solid.
"C.J. just does as basic a hitting as you can do," Lake said. "I know I've told C.J. I'm going to teach my little boy to hit like he does. It is so simple that when something goes wrong, you can fix it. With C.J. he can adjust real quick, even during an at-bat."
Lake says it's not all that easy to explain the lack of complexity for Ketchum as opposed to some other hitters. But it's there.
"It's just a basic swing," he said. "He has a good parallel stance. He gets his foot back early, his hands back early. He's very balanced. He's just so simple with his swing. He repeats it. And he works. He's a guy that's here every day hitting and working and striving to get better."
Ketchum, batting .357 prior to the game with MSU Tuesday night (second on the team to Justin Henry's .370), says he has a lot of confidence.
"I've been seeing the ball pretty well all season," said Ketchum, a true singles hitter with only one home run and four doubles among his 46 hits prior to the Mayor's Trophy game. "I just look for a good pitch to hit and just drive it."
As Lake says, simple approach, simple goal. But it works for Ketchum.
"I just try to be aggressive with every at-bat," said Ketchum, in his second year at Ole Miss after playing for Crowder Community College in Missouri for a season. "I just go up there thinking about hitting the ball and getting on base."
Ketchum, who had a 10-game hitting streak end with the second game last weekend against Auburn, said he knew there would be an adjustment in the field as an everyday player. While the three-time All-American Head was his predecessor, Ketchum knew if he got the chance he would do the best he could to be a solid first baseman.
"I'm still getting my feet wet over there," said Ketchum, a park and recreation management major. "I'm trying to improve every day defensively. That's not really my strong suit. But I've been working really hard on defense to get better every time out."
He says he's even shaken off what could have been a mental negative left over from his juco days.
"I shattered a finger on my throwing hand playing first base in junior college as a freshman," said Ketchum, noting that is the reason he only played one season at Crowder. "I got a medical redshirt (his first year) because of it and played my second year there as a freshman. I was just taking a ground ball when it happened. I don't think about it much anymore. I've had a few balls hit at me like that one was. I look down and it's not bleeding so I know everything's OK."
The Rebel offense has been better than OK the past couple of weeks. Against Georgia the Rebs had 41 hits and against Auburn 38 hits.
"We were soul-searching after (getting swept at) Alabama," said Ketchum, whose full name is Craig Joseph Ketchum. "Against Southern Miss (a 9-8 UM win two weeks ago in Oxford) we played better, and then at Georgia we played well and played hard and got three wins. We've all played well lately as a team and that seems to be carrying over for us."
Much like C.J. Ketchum's role last season propelled him into one of the key roles for this year's ballclub, both at first base and at the plate.
"He's been super consistent for us offensively," Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco said. "Last year he was our best hitter off the bench. He got several key hits in critical situations for us. This year no doubt he's been our most consistent hitter since game one."
C.J. Ketchum - simple approach, solid hitter
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