Streaking sophomore pushing for playing time

The Rebel lineup has been a recent quandary with match-ups playing a deciding role as to which players receive the honor of starting on a given day.

Coach Mike Bianco alluded earlier in the week that any of the rotating players has the ability to find themselves in the everyday order thanks to a consistent hot streak. In other words, a Rebel can succeed to the point where Bianco can't afford not to him in the lineup.

This interchanging group has recently featured C.J. Ketchum, Zach Miller and Kyle Mills on specific days, while Evan Button and Fuller Smith receive playing time on the other occasions. Consistency has been a tough thing for most in this collection, but one that may be ready to cement his spot is Button.

The utility sophomore has been a main cog recently on offense and has the additional ability to play every defensive spot. Speed and a passionate on-the-field fire add to the superlatives that Button brings to the table. He is hitting .322 (.303 SEC) on the year and touts a perfect fielding percentage after 78 chances.

With the departure of Andrew Clark now approximately two weeks into the past, Button and senior Ketchum are splitting time at first base. Ketchum was the regular designated hitter earlier in the season and is fighting to regain the form he displayed in 2006. The now-senior was a key component of Ole Miss' Super Regional team as he hit around .350 and would have been the SEC Tournament MVP had it not been for Mark Wright exploding with the bat.

However, this year has been tougher on Ketchum with him hitting .248 and .196 in SEC play. Ketchum has also grounded into a team-leading seven double plays. Button has 40 fewer at-bats than the senior but features a 250-point higher slugging percentage and is more than 100 points better in on-base percentage. Ketchum has nine walks and nine strikeouts, while Button has eight of each so those are push categories. They each have 33 total bases despite the discrepancy in plate appearances. Button is at least even as far as defense and would most likely become better with more repetitions.

Ketchum will be needed for Ole Miss to reach its goals, but he hasn't looked comfortable so far in 2007 even with putting the ball in play an above average amount of time. Giving Ketchum an opportunity to hit out of his slump is completely understandable, but so would be handing Button a majority of the plate appearances, especially considering he is hotter at the moment and is returning next season. Gaining experience is never a bad thing.

It is a coin flip as to how or when Ketchum bounces out of his current funk, but there is an example of it going either way. Rebounding like Wright would be the best possible scenario as he struggled for a while last season before parlaying a strong finish into a professional free agent contract. Double play and strikeout numbers were up for Wright in the early portion of 2006, but he moved down into the eight slot before leading the team in RBI.

On the other side, former Rebel Josh Christian was never able to return to the form that he exhibited during his junior season. In 2001, Christian sizzled with a .351 batting average and bombed 14 home runs. But a year later, Christian changed fielding positions in an effort to find his hitting stroke, but the senior ended the year hitting .280 and saw his home run production cut in half with seven.

Of course, the first option is much more preferred, and something along that level is what Bianco is hoping for regarding Ketchum as the season continues.

As stated earlier, Button's versatility means that first base isn't the Missouri native's only option. Button found time in the outfield last season and is able to thrive at all infield positions. With this in mind, second base is another key possibility with getting Button in the lineup.

That spot is currently held the majority of the time by freshman Zach Miller, who exhibits a lot of the same positives as Button. They hit from separate sides of the plate but each is agile, fiery and can steal bases. All-SEC infielder Justin Henry moved to the outfield at least partly to make room for Miller, but the move could help Button as well. Alternating starting nods with both Ketchum and Miller would allow Button to ride out this streak and see if he can continue to add power and clutch at-bats to the offense.

Miller is hitting right at .340 but has the drawback of striking out an average of once every third plate appearance. He has the ability to make the great play on defense but hasn't been as consistent as Button, fielding at a .943 clip.

The right-handed Miller was allowed the chance to hit against right-handed pitching last Saturday so why not throw Button the same shot against lefties? Miller rightfully received his opportunity because he stood out during a few-game span and filled a need.

And now, a similar need is present and another rangy infielder appears to be in position to fill it. So with MSU invading Oxford Friday and Ole Miss fighting for a regional host spot, can the Rebels afford not to find a place for Button?

Either way, he has passed the prerequisite of being on a hot streak and providing continuous sparks, thus the only thing left is to give him that chance.

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