Lost amid the season-ending shuffle, Phillip Irwin threw the game of his career this past June against Bethune-Cookman in the Coral Gables Regional. Several months later, that impressive outing still has the right-hander confident and topping his competition.
The 2008 season was a strange one for Irwin. After holding down a midweek starting spot for part of the year, a few bad performances pushed the Memphis, Tenn., native to the edge of the travel squad. Always around but hardly used, Irwin stayed positive.
Then, in what was supposed to be simple mop-up duty against the fourth-seeded Wildcats, Irwin became the talk of the tournament – for the time being at least. Ole Miss eliminated BCC, 14-1, and Irwin pitched the final four innings, allowing just one hit and striking out nine, a career high.
To fans and followers of the program, Irwin's game was forgotten as Scott Bittle beat Mizzou and Miami moved on after defeating the Rebels. But for Irwin, those four innings couldn't have been more important.
"Definitely, that was the turning point here," Irwin said. "I don't know what happened, but it gave me a confidence boost going into the summer. After a good time there in Thomasville (N.C.), I still feel great about things."
As he should considering Irwin has yet to allow an earned run this fall and has quickly entered the discussion as a potential weekend pitcher. The junior is breaking 90 with his fastball and doing an excellent job of locating on the corners, a problem during last season's slump.
Irwin is also one of the few pitchers that hasn't yet had a ball lost over the Oxford High School wall. With the Rebels practicing on a field that features a 360-foot centerfield wall and only 315 feet down the lines, location becomes more necessary than normal.
"They haven't gotten one too close on me yet, but I am sure it will happen," Irwin said. "Balls that would have been nowhere close to the warning track (at Swayze Field) are getting out of this place. I just try to keep the ball down and roll ground balls. Do that, and you don't have to worry about the fences. I just worry about tearing up the inside part of the plate. Keep the ball down."
Some of the credit also comes from an emphasis on mechanics over the summer. Irwin strained his back during his time in the Costal Plain League and had to sit out two weeks during the middle of the season. The extra time on the shelf brought about plenty of time to work on form and fundamentals.
"You always tinker with them, but the summer allowed me to really shore everything up," Irwin said. "I concentrated on it and have gotten really comfortable."
That has led to performance so far this fall.
"The pitchers haven't just rolled through innings except for Phil Irwin," head coach Mike Bianco said. "He has been dominant so far. Irwin throwing like that just makes us that much better he is in the mix."
The mix means Irwin has a chance for considerable weekend innings. And that is exactly the goal as the fall progresses. Irwin is quick to make that clear.
"Win a big spot in the spring, be a weekend guy. It is time to do it."
Irwin Working Toward Weekend Role
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