Ole Miss is riding a successful weekend of slugging thanks to several different characters. This is because of which arm the pitcher uses, and it is the price the players pay with the talent on the team, but they are starting to get used to it.
"It is just something that is part of the system," the left-hand hitting Evan Button said. "I have come to grips with it and have come to expect it. It shows how good of a team we have. Guys like me and (Zach) Miller or me and (C.J.) Ketchum, we switch off with lefty/righty match-ups, and it has been working well lately.
"I know I can play, and he (head coach Mike Bianco) knows I can play. If it's a lefty, then Miller, (Kyle) Mills and Ketchum will play, and if it is a righty, I am ready to come in."
Button has made a recent push for playing time no matter who is throwing with a hot bat over the past few weeks, and the sophomore has several things going for him. He features good speed and has the ability to play anywhere on the field. Button is also a fiery guy that brings continuous energy to the park.
The Missouri native along with designated hitter/outfielder Fuller Smith have taken care of most at-bats against a right-handed pitcher. Button has gathered the majority of his innings at first base since the departure of Andrew Clark, while Smith has plugged the DH hole. Backup catcher Alex Kliman is the third most likely spot player from the left side.
Button has increased his average to .322 and .303 in SEC play to lead the group. Smith has found success during the conference season at .286, but his overall total is still .263. Kliman hits .350 on the season but only compiled a .167 average during a limited six at-bats.
Button continues to gain momentum toward everyday playing time, but he understands the logic and admits it makes a difference.
"I think I hit ok against our left-handed pitchers, but obviously, I hit better off the righties," Button said. "It's a different angle and harder to pick up out of a lefty's hand. That is why you see it all the time."
The right-handed side is just as crowded with Ketchum, Miller and Mills all viable options. Ketchum splits time with Button at first and designated hit over the first portion of the season, while Miller is a rangy infielder that, like Button, provides a spark to the team. Mills was slowed due to an arm injury but adds much-needed power to the lineup. The former JUCO National Player of the Year connected for a two-run blast Sunday against South Carolina.
Miller has noticed the righty/lefty trend but says that Bianco doesn't make it part of the conversation.
"He (Bianco) doesn't talk about it," Miller said. "He just makes his decision and lately it has been every game. It's all about playing hard offensively and defensively when you get the chance."
Miller is the first to negate the trend, as he has been a frequent staple at second base even last Saturday against a left-handed opponent. It could be also attributed to Clark no longer being on the roster. The freshman that decided to transfer played everyday, which sent Ketchum to the DH role. His absence has and should open up innings that will be allotted to the versatile Miller and Button.
Miller is keeping his roster spot thanks to a .333 average that has cooled only slightly to .314 in league games. Ketchum continues to fight to regain his 2006 form where he batted around .350. Currently, the senior is hitting .252 and a lethargic .196 in the SEC. He also leads the team by grounding into six double plays. Mills is just beginning to get consistent at-bats and is hitting .275 (.250 SEC). The Tupelo product's home run power is something Bianco was quick to touch on.
"He hasn't had a lot of at-bats nor consistent at-bats," Bianco said. "But to add another bat to your lineup that has the ability to hit a home run. Having the ability to hit the occasional home run is a big deal. When it's not part of the arsenal, scoring is a lot harder. Not that you depend on it, but instead of getting a hit, bunting him over or stealing him over and getting another hit, that is a lot of things to happen. It adds a lot to be able to do it with one swing."
Bianco is satisfied with continuing to use this hitting strategy, but it also allows all the players a chance to step up.
"It starts out where you give them all a chance to hit," Bianco said. "Maybe it continues or maybe you find somebody who is going to ride it out for a while whether a righty or lefty. Part of it is to get them into the best opportunity to succeed. To bat right handers against left handers, and vice versa is to jumpstart the guys and get them going."
The lineup has changed more than in past years under Bianco, but that could be a good sign because of enough talent to make the decisions difficult.
"The lineup isn't just who got three hits yesterday," Bianco said. "It's defensively and trying to put the best nine out there, not the nine best. Collectively, that they play the best. Make sure you got enough runners out there and enough guys that hit home runs, enough guys that drive in runs, and then attempt to figure out which spot in the order will come up with three guys on base today."
This set of players hasn't had the luxury of playing everyday, but there is a luxury in that they can see when they will play considering the opposing pitcher.
"There is a certain amount of security," Button said. "I know when I will get a chance, and we have the hitters to run off a starter as well. If a righty comes out of the pen, then I will get a chance those days too."
Match-ups playing part in Rebel lineup
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