Bittle Me This...

When opposing batters walk away from the plate after facing Scott Bittle, their faces show the look of confusion and a suppressed shaking of the head usually ensues. It is as if they are being asked to solve the square root of some six-digit number and given only several seconds to do so.

The riddle that is Bittle has been faced by 181 batters so far in 2008. Just 42 hitters have solved the junior and reached base, 21 of those on walks. Out of the 139 others that have been retired, 99 went down without any type of contact.

For the Rebels, as soon as No. 19 enters, they know it is normally as good as over.

"It is so much extra confidence with him in there," Matt Smith said. "Bittle comes in, and it is locked down. He keeps our lead, and if we are behind, we have time to come back. The other team's lead won't increase."

Bittle's numbers this season have been almost laughable. Although he is a reliever, the right-hander has made a solid case to be the SEC Pitcher of the Year. As evidence, take a peek at his place in the conference stats.

Bittle is second in strikeouts (99), fifth in earned run average (1.48), fifth in opposing batting average (.116), third in saves (7) and fourth in games finished (15).

The assortment of numbers tells the story, but the strikeout numbers are mind-boggling. Bittle's 99 put him one behind Bryan Morgado of Tennessee for the league lead, but Morgado has thrown 21 more frames. Bittle is averaging 1.8 strikeouts per inning and more than 16 per nine innings pitched.

"He is so dominant every time out," Mike Bianco said. "You don't even have to field the ball that well behind him because there aren't many opportunities. He is the most dominant guy we've had here in my eight years."

The Rebels' players and coaches are glowingly positive about Bittle, but the word has spread around the league as well. Auburn coach Tom Slater said he was the best pitcher the Tigers have faced all season. Arkansas outfielder Casey Coon probably feels the same way.

"It's just not even fair," Coon said after Bittle earned a save against the Razorbacks with seven strikeouts and no runs allowed in 3.1 innings. "A batter should make the Major League minimum before having to face something like that. He wasn't hittable. You are up there just guessing."

Earlier Monday, Bittle was named a finalist for the Ferris Award, an annual honor given to the top college baseball player in the state of Mississippi. He is joined by Tyler Conn of Southern Miss and Delta State's Ricky Noland.

Bianco thinks it is Bittle's consistency and ability to throw multiple innings that puts him above other closers such as Brian Woodall of Auburn or Josh Fields at Georgia.

He can come in during the sixth and is able to throw 75 pitches if necessary. When the game is on the line or in jeopardy, Scott is whom you go to. There are guys that can do it for one inning or two, but he can do it for three or four and be special."

While hitters have difficulty even putting his pitches in play, Bittle has a simple approach.

"It is just going out there and doing the same thing every time," Bittle modestly said. "It is 60 feet-six inches, and the object is to get the guy out. I just go right after them with my best stuff and hopefully win."

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