Freshman to take hill for Rebels

Freshman Phillip Irwin has battled Tommy John surgery and is making his first college start Wednesday against Austin Peay

Pitcher Phillip Irwin was eating lunch Monday when an unexpected text message was sent his way.

"I was in the union, and Coach (Kyle) Bunn sent me a text," Irwin said. "He told me I was starting Wednesday. It threw me off guard since I haven't thrown more than an inning or two in either appearance."

The right-hander from Christian Brothers High School in Memphis, Tenn., has patiently waited for playing time since undergoing Tommy John surgery in late 2005. The now routine procedure has a high success rate but sidelines pitchers for more than a year during a grueling recovery process.

Irwin was red-shirted in 2006 and has taken the field twice this season in relief roles, but it is a game of waiting and hoping when dealing with post-surgery pain. So far, he has posted a 5.40 ERA.

"Ever since my first appearance my arm has felt good," Irwin said. "Hopefully I won't have any more pain, but my surgery says I am going to."

Although this will be Irwin's first start at Ole Miss, he has already picked up his first win. The freshman pitched 1.2 innings of relief work against Belmont to become the pitcher of record. Irwin kept the Bruins from scoring but surrendered two hits. He faced Memphis as well but did not factor into the decision.

Irwin has been content with getting innings anywhere that he can, but tonight will place the native from Collierville, Tenn., exactly where he wants to be.

"I have always liked being a starter, and that's what I did in high school," Irwin said. "I prefer starting, but with all the guys we have that can throw, you have to get any time that you can. I have been waiting for this, didn't know it was going to come. It's my first collegiate start. I am really looking forward to it."

While pitchers are rewarded with a start from time to time, head coach Mike Bianco is viewing it as a chance for Irwin to test his arm during a longer outing.

"It's hard to get extended innings out of the pen," Bianco said. "This hopefully gives Phillip a chance to get comfortable. It's just a way to get him in the game and see how he feels. I don't expect him to go more than four or five innings. Several pitchers should get a chance to pitch Wednesday."

Also expected to appear against Austin Peay are two more post-injury pitchers in Justin Cryer and Cody Satterwhite.

Cryer has also experienced the rigors of Tommy John surgery as he has been sidelined due to red-shirts for two seasons. If he is indeed called upon, it will be his first action as a Rebel.

On the other hand, Satterwhite has logged innings during three appearances and is close to beating the arm injury that halted him during the offseason.

"I feel a lot better, but I am trying to get innings against batters," Satterwhite said. "It's a long process, I feel good about my arm, and that is the most important thing."

Satterwhite was brilliant in his freshman season of 2006 with a shared school record of 11 wins and All-America honors from Collegiate Baseball.

So far in 2007, Satterwhite has thrown 3.1 innings with two earned runs allowed. The right-hander has struck out five of his ten outs recorded.

"He's right where we want him to be at this point," Bunn said. "The layoff was lengthy. So, he is working to get his confidence back and trying to establish a rhythm and get back into live situations. We'll continue to put him out there and get him ready."

Ole Miss finishes its series with the Bat Govs at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday before a three-game series with nationally ranked UCLA begins on Friday at Swayze Field.

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