Pitching Puzzle

The question on Monday was the same as Sunday. Who will be the starting pitcher for Ole Miss next Sunday now that it won't be Aaron Barrett?

The answer was TBA.

Barrett, the tall junior right-hander from Evansville, Ind., was hit hard in every appearance to date. He's had four starts and his ERA is 11.20 through 13.2 innings. He just hasn't been able to get outs.

But Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco, while already saying Barrett won't start this weekend, says he still fully believes the 6-foot-4, 205-pounder who pitched at Wabash Valley Community College before arriving at Ole Miss has what it takes to succeed at this level.

"Here's a guy who's got tremendous stuff, certainly a great fast ball, a great breaking ball, he's got a good changeup, he throws the ball into the strike zone," Bianco said. "He's a competitor. He does a lot of things right. He can hold runners. But right now it isn't working for him. You look up and say ‘Wow. How can that happen?' He's just got to change the environment a little bit. We've got to get him out of the starting role and get him in the bullpen and get him to have success."

Coming from a community college, Barrett is older than a lot of first-year Division I pitchers. He's 21 years old and has been drafted twice, first by the Dodgers in the 44th round out of high school and in the 20th round last summer by the Twins.

After his rocky performance as the third-game starter Sunday, Barrett faced reporters and answered all the questions straight-forward. It wasn't any easy situation, but he handled it well.

"For me it's just about gaining more confidence and trying to go up there and attack hitters," he said. "Just going up there knowing my stuff's good enough, get more confident, and let the ball fly out of my hand. I've just got to keep getting better."

Bianco said he's seen some really positive characteristics from Barrett.

"One of the neat things about Aaron is he's the best bench guy we've got. One of the things I really respect about him is that's never changed. He's such a tremendous leader and even with his lack of success, he's been the same. And that's a difficult thing to do."

Bianco compares Barrett's current woes to some previous Rebel pitchers who have had good stuff and battled to become effective for the program. They're now household names for those who have followed the Rebels for any length of time.

"Phillip (Irwin) went through it last year," he said. "I remember him facing a team that was hitting like .220, and he couldn't get through the second inning. It happens, but you've got to keep fighting and competing. Will Kline was always a guy I believed in, and he battled through it. He went from a guy who we tried to fit in when we could to our ace. Eric Fowler, same thing."

Kline and Fowler became so important to the 2006 and 2005 teams respectively. The coaches continued to work with them and believe in them, and finally it happened for them.

"Part of it is just to keep competing and believing in yourself, because if you're good enough, just like the hitter, you have to keep your head above water and keep fighting," Bianco said. "If you do that, it may end up happening for you and the next thing you know you're feeling good about things. As hard as it is, you have to forget what's happened. You have to take it and evaluate it and see where you can improve. Then you have to flush it."

Bianco said it's important to try to help pitchers in this situation keep or rekindle their composure.

"Finding his confidence is important. People don't talk about it much, but it's kinda like a pitching slump. A hitter gets up there and the next thing you know he doesn't feel comfortable. He gets an 0-3 or an 0-4, he lines out a couple of times and has nothing to show for it. A couple of games later you're 0-12 and nothing feels right. It seems to kinda snowball on you. The same's true on the pitcher's side."

So who will this week's Sunday starter be? There are several possibilities, among them veteran left-handers Nathan Baker and Brett Bukvich. Will talented newcomer LHP Kyle Barbeck get his first SEC start? Possibles also include right-handers Rory McKean and Jake Morgan, but they've been more in a relief role this season.

The Rebels travel to Arkansas State today for a 6 p.m. game. Bukvich (2-0, 1.20 ERA) gets ths starting nod.

On Wednesday in Oxford at 6:30 p.m., the Rebels host Memphis. RHP Chris Corrigan (0-0, 11.12 ERA) will start on the mound for Ole Miss.

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