Writer's note: This is the first of a weekly segment that will appear every Sunday night throughout baseball season. The first two weeks will focus on different things about the intrasquad series, and then each following article will focus on the series that just ended. There will be some opinion and other things that don't make the recaps.
Evan Button Update
Button suffered a sprained ankle on Friday and missed all three games over the weekend. Coach Mike Bianco expects Button to be back on the field in some capacity on Wednesday and is optimistic the junior infielder will be healthy enough to compete in the intrasquads next weekend. Tuesday will most likely be Ole Miss' day off this week. Button's absence was a prime opportunity for Sean Stuyverson to make a run at the starting shortstop position, but that didn't occur. If Button returns healthy for the weekend, I think he is the clear leader to replace Zach Cozart on Opening Day.
Cody Satterwhite pitched Sunday instead of his normal Saturday slot this weekend due to a sore shoulder. However, the junior rebounded a day later, allowing a run on two hits in three innings of work. The soreness was in a muscle, so it isn't a concern.
"It is his muscle and not the rotator cuff or anything," Bianco said. "He threw well and hard today. Obviously he is fine."
It was a stellar weekend for the pitchers contending for the Sunday starter role. I still believe Nathan Baker is the odds-on favorite, mainly because he is pitching as good as anyone. If he is successful, then it doesn't matter what the other hurlers do. Baker didn't allow a run in 3.2 innings and put up five strikeouts. He said afterward that his velocity was a little down (87-89), but that he felt like he located well and handled the longer outing effectively.
Also Sunday, Drew Pomeranz had his best outing since arriving on campus. The freshman pitched three innings and was exceptional except for one poorly placed pitch. He left a fastball up to Cody Overbeck, who deposited it over the left-field wall. Pomeranz allowed the two-run homer to Overbeck but struckout six and gave up just one other hit.
The two lefties stood out on the final day, but righty Scott Bittle put up the top performance of the weekend. Bittle pitched four perfect innings Saturday and fanned three hitters.
The weekend should boost all three guys' confidence and make Bianco feel good about his starters. Bittle and Pomeranz would be exceptional candidates to take care of the midweek work, if they aren't overused in relief during the three-game series. Also, both seem more than capable if Baker falls into a skid at any point. In my opinion, Bittle needs to be utilized as a starter, no matter when the game. He showed flashes in last season's SEC Tournament against Vanderbilt and seems to embrace the job of starter because the game doesn't hang on one pitch in his first inning. The chance to settle in and gain confidence as the contest moves along is ideal for Bittle.
Thomas Flautt was a longshot for considerable innings coming into the season, but the senior is having a stellar spring thus far. Flautt has faced the minimum through five innings of work.
Phillip Irwin appears to be healthy after offseason injury. He gave up a run and four hits in four innings this weekend and has been solid since returning. He is another quality option for bullpen and midweek work.
He is still a little raw, but Matt Smith may be a candidate for closer before the year is over. His plus fastball tails, and he is beginning to get the hang of the other pitches.
Even though he was named team captain, Fuller Smith was forgotten at first due to the plethora of speedy outfielders, but Smith is quickly working his way into my thoughts concerning the designated hitter position. He has experience and seems extremely focused this year. His average may not always standout, but Smith puts together quality at-bats and hustles 100 percent of the time. He is a true team player that will be valuable because of ability and attitude.
It appears that Brett Basham is distancing himself from Kyle Henson behind the plate. Their offensive numbers are comparable, but Basham looks more comfortable defensively and has the much better arm. Both catchers will be needed, but Basham stands out at the moment. Especially considering the premium Bianco puts on blocking and throwing.
Matt Mossberg was serious when he predicted the Rebels would have the best outfield nationally, and it isn't hard to see why. Jordan Henry made a diving catch in centerfield today, and balls don't find many holes when any assortment of Henry, Logan Power, Michael Hubbard and Michael Guerrero are roaming the outfield. One won't start, but any of the four can play center and have a strong enough arm to throw out runners advancing. It is one of the most exciting aspects of the 2008 team.
Cody Overbeck is crushing the baseball. The third baseman has bulked up during the offseason and is on fire. Overbeck hit two home runs this weekend and seems to have a lot of confidence heading into the season. His late-season defensive swoon looks to be resolved as well. So far, he is solid in the field.
If possible, Tim Ferguson and Cliff Vaughn are excellent redshirt candidates. Both are talented and can hit, but the need is there for each to get stronger and more experienced. Vaughn is likely the first baseman of the future, and a year to gain strength and more repetitions would be invaluable. Ferguson's arm is lacking at the shortstop position compared to his competitors, but he can hit the baseball. With a redshirt, Ferguson could be a solid fielder and a force in the middle of the order down the line. I have also been really impressed with the versatility of Yogi Gunther. He has filled in nicely at third base and second base, as has Logan Williams.