Bittle hopeful; short week in progress

Ole Miss Coach Mike Bianco said he is hopeful Scott Bittle will be ready to pitch this weekend. He believes they will know more today and tomorrow.

"He will throw (Tuesday), and we will make a decision (after that)," Bianco said. "It's hard to say when, because I don't know what's going to really happen. Hopefully he throws, feels good, dresses this weekend and goes back to the role that he was in at the beginning of the year, coming out of the bullpen."

That could mean more than just the final three to six outs of a game.

"If all goes as planned, Scott can throw more than an inning or two," Bianco said. "We can use him more like we used him last year where a game's in jeopardy in the sixth or seventh inning, bring him in and feel pretty confident he can finish it. Or this year you've got Jake (Morgan) behind him if something happened that (Bittle) couldn't finish.

"But if he's not ready to go," Bianco continued, "then we won't start him for his sake and our sake."

Bittle hopes to be able to help his team out this weekend.

"We have to see how things go," the senior right-hander said Monday. "It's day to day, just like it has been. I feel confident things will go well."

Ever the team player, Bittle does love the bullpen.

"I've never denied that," he said. "I like the chance to play every day. I think it will be fun to be back in the pen. But if they need me to start again, I'm willing to do that, too."

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A short week awaits the team, still ranked as high as ninth nationally as the regular season winds down. The Rebels (37-15 overall, 17-10 SEC) head to Fayetteville for three games against Arkansas (31-17, 14-12) beginning Thursday night.

The Southeastern Conference went three years ago to a Thursday-Saturday final weekend, mainly so teams will have more time between the end of the season and the start of the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala.

Bianco said everyone seems mostly pleased with the switch from the normal Friday-Sunday series.

"The drawback is pitchers don't get one more day of rest (between last weekend and this weekend)," he said. "But that was a tradeoff for one more day of rest before Hoover (which always begins on a Wednesday). It's also a travel situation. We've been on the road like eight of the nine years I've been here for the last weekend of the regular season."

Bianco said the SEC has to set it up that way to incorporate schools' final exams. Most of the time that has meant Ole Miss is at home the next to last weekend of the season and on the road the last weekend.

"We had to be home last weekend because of final exams," he said. "And teams cannot be at home the last two weekends. So we must go on the road (the last weekend). That's how it falls."

And the travel situation, the way the season used to end, meant that teams with long distances to travel after a Sunday game would simply go on to Hoover. That meant a team could potentially be gone from its campus as long as a week and a half.

In 2004, for example, Ole Miss and LSU played the last regular season weekend in Oxford Friday-Sunday. Rather than going back to Baton Rouge, the Tigers stayed in Oxford Sunday night, practiced at Swayze Field Monday, and traveled to Hoover for Tuesday's practice.

"So there is more rest on the back end (before Hoover starts), which I think is what everybody likes," Bianco said.

Gametimes for Ole Miss-Arkansas are 6:35 p.m. Thursday and Friday, and 2:05 p.m. Saturday.

The Rebels have won five of their last six games in Fayetteville, sweeping to claim an SEC West title in 2005 and winning two of three games in 2007.


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