There are two ways to look at this past weekend versus Mississippi State. Either way is understandable. Option A is that the Rebels took two of three and did what was hoped for on any SEC weekend. Winning the series placed Ole Miss with the early lead in the West and was a good start. Also, the success in Starkville took some of the sting out of the skid that lasted for some time right before conference play began. Option B is to leave the weekend unfulfilled because the Rebels left a golden opportunity on the table Sunday. Sweeping the in-state rival to open SEC play isn't offered often, and Ole Miss was given the chance. Yeah, we won the series, but that comatose performance Sunday could come back to haunt later. All the games count the same.
I am somewhere in the middle. I would have taken two of three if it was offered on Friday morning, but once you get two straight, you get greedy against a team that might have folded if the Rebels could have jumped out early. Instead, Ricky Bowen stymied the Ole Miss bats and almost made history. The past two Sundays, the Rebels have scored only one combined run in 18 innings. It may just be pitching, but some amount of sleep-walking is going on. Today and last week in the finale against TCU, the scenes were a lot like last year when Ole Miss had trouble closing versus opponents. It isn't at trend level yet, but it is something to keep an eye on heading into the Florida weekend.
How about Drew Pomeranz? The freshman struckout six of seven hitters faced Sunday and continues to be more impressive each time out. The positive dilemma on where to place him on the weekend is an interesting debate. Mike Bianco seems content to use him out of the pen on possibly multiple times each series. I agree with that if the starters are pitching effectively, but the time may come where Ole Miss needs Pomeranz to take the ball from the first inning on and win a game. If I had to pick right now, it is Cody Satterwhite's Saturday spot that is or should be in the most jeopardy. The junior is undoubtedly talented, but his difficulty locating offspeed pitches is making things very tough on Saturdays. The chatter has been Pomeranz replacing Nathan Baker, but I feel like Nathan is giving more than Cody presently. It just looks differently because Baker is throwing on Sundays, where the Ole Miss offense has been non-existent. The run support differential is altering the perception of the weekend starters other than Lance Lynn. Don't expect a change this week, but it could very well happen down the road due to Pomeranz earning more innings and a greater role or Satterwhite or Baker becoming less reliable.
Saturday night was a big outing for Scott Bittle. Last season was littered with Bittle mishaps during the conference slate, and Saturday began the same way before the junior righted the ship. After allowing a couple hits, Bittle sat down 11 straight and closed out the game. Afterward, Bittle said all the right things and is overflowing with confidence. Holding down the Bulldogs was immensely satisfying for Bittle and maybe even a little vindication that this is a new year. I trust him in any role Bianco sticks him in from this point forward. There is no reason not to.
The offense Friday overshadowed a terrific performance out of Lynn. His six innings of shutout baseball held down State and set the tone for the weekend. His outings are becoming routine and thus overlooked, but the Rebels feel they are nearly invincible on Friday nights. One reporter asked that question to several of the players following Lynn's night, and all answered that the goal is to get a couple runs and let Lance take care of the rest. The junior will battle every hitter and is normally victorious. His demeanor and attitude feeds his teammates with confidence. Lynn is truly special in that he can elevate the play of those around him just by being on the field.
Justin Cryer didn't see the field this weekend, but he is still the closer, although don't expect him to throw more than single innings unless it is the end of the weekend and both Bittle and Pomeranz are spent. Cryer has been serviceable, but the emergence of the other two pitchers could slightly adjust his role and cost him a few innings here or there.
Rory McKean followed Baker Sunday, and was moderately effective, although it was likely his worst outing of the season with the walks and the fielding error as well. In a perfect world, McKean would start during the midweek to shore up that situation, but he is too vital during the weekend series. He will continue to get extended innings out of the pen.
Brett Bukvich is slated to start Wednesday, but he was left off the travel roster for the weekend. It is unclear how much of that has to do with control problems and how much is due to a bruised finger on his throwing hand. Either way, Bukvich was the opposite of comfortable earlier this week against Western Kentucky. Significant improvement is needed before the veteran gets weekend looks. Wednesday is a big opportunity for Bukvich.
Things of Note
It is not difficult to spot the largest deficiency with the Rebels - the shortstop position. Evan Button and Sean Stuyverson are rotating at the spot, but neither is playing consistent enough to take over. This problematic position will cause major problems if not soon corrected. We discussed a couple weeks ago when to panic, and the time is approaching because of the shoddy defense and suspect hitting. Stuyverson had a miserable weekend in the field with three errors and a couple more close calls, while Button played superbly Saturday defensively, but is still failing to provide quality at-bats, save the one tremendous plate appearance in the middle game of the series. Stuyverson hit the hardest ball of the day Sunday off Bowen, but the liner ricocheted off the pitcher straight to the third baseman, who threw across in time. Bowen doesn't get hit, and the no-hitter is non-existent after the sixth inning. His arm is not quite ready for the position, but I am not against Tim Ferguson getting a shot at shortstop. His bat is solid, and he has been serviceable with the glove thus far. It isn't a bad idea to toy with during a midweek game to get a look.
Brett Basham has been the most dissected player on the message boards since the season started, but let me say that Basham has been brilliant behind the plate and is hitting well over .300, including .500 against Mississippi State. I thought before the season that Basham would excel if he would bat .250. Obviously that was on the low side or so it seems. While the bat is more than stable compared to what is asked, his defensive ability is becoming more apparent. Basham's hustle and receiving capability are easing the sting of Kyle Henson's suspension. The JUCO transfer would most likely be in a supporting role at best anyway.
Cullan Kight was left off the travel squad, and his innings may be dwindling by the day. The first baseman has struggled on the season, which is disappointing since he offers another left-handed bat to the offense. My guess over the weekend was that Ferguson would back Matt Smith up if an injury occurred. Kight needs to impress in the midweek to become any type of a factor during league play. The arrest before the season isn't helping matters.
Despite the game-ending strikeout Sunday, Michael Guerrero has done an admirable job bridging the gap in the lineup between Cody Overbeck and Logan Power. His eight RBI weekend moved along the offense and gave Guerrero confidence as well.
Overbeck has now hit safely in all 18 games this season. That is quite a feat and shows how solid the junior is swinging the bat this season. He and Power, who hit .583 on the weekend are both dangerous and can hit the ball to all fields. Ole Miss will always be in games with those two producing at this pace. Also, Overbeck has limited his strikeouts compared to last season. That has and will increase his quality at-bats and RBI potential.
Ole Miss 2-1
Miss. State 1-2
South Carolina 1-2
Sunday Night Notes: Satisfied with Series?
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