Depth at pitcher was a problem for Ole Miss during fall baseball. Numerous circumstances contributed to the cause.
"We had some bad fortune where we lost some guys to injuries and sickness and other things," said tenth-year UM head coach Mike Bianco. "Most of them were pitchers. When you put that together with some of them like Drew Pomeranz taking much of the fall to rest their arms, we kind of had a skeleton crew for a few weeks."
But that did change some as the weeks passed from late September into early November.
"Once we started getting some guys back from injury, some guys back from sickness, some guys back from taking some time off, we looked much stronger on the mound," Bianco said.
He compared it to last season in a different way.
"It is a lot like last year with the position players," Bianco said. "I like the pitching staff. I just don't know the order or the roles yet. We'll play around a little bit with it in the spring and hopefully be as close as we can come Feb. 19."
Pomeranz, of course, is the Rebel ace. Last year he stepped up when the Rebels needed him most, especially in the postseason.
The junior left-hander rested the early part of the fall just to give his arm some recovery time. He only pitched three innings at the end of the fall with seven strikeouts, four walks, a hit and two runs.
"Drew looked really strong," Bianco said. "His command wasn't great, but that was to be expected. A lot of scouts showed up the last two weeks to watch him pitch, because he hadn't pitched all fall. I think he overthrew a little bit. Strength-wise he looked terrific. Couple more walks than I'm sure he would rather have in the few innings that he threw. (The last scrimmage of the fall) he threw 93-95 and he looked great."
Clearly the biggest loss of the fall as far as pitchers was Jake Morgan, who had Tommy John surgery during fall ball and is out for the season.
"Certainly losing Jake is a big blow," Bianco said of the Rebels' talented and effective closer.
So they look elsewhere for someone to step into that role and also step up in any number of roles.
"You have talented guys like David Goforth, a guy who can relieve or start and do anything in the bullpen and have the type of stuff that he has," Bianco said. "He can be that guy (to replace Morgan in the closer role). But, again, it comes back to that proverbial question, who is the closer? And I don't know, because I don't know who the No. 2 starter is yet or the No. 3 starter is yet. We've got to figure it all out.
"And others like Trent Rothlin, Aaron Barrett and Matt Crouse. Matt Tracy might have had the best fall of any pitcher. And then with guys like Brett Huber and Rory McKean, I certainly think we're going to be pretty good on the mound. But there are a lot of new faces that will be pitching some big innings for us."
Crouse, a left-handed sophomore transfer from junior college, suffered a torn meniscus early in the semester and missed out on much of the fall. He ended up pitching 6.33 innings with a 2.84 ERA.
"(His injury) was two weeks before fall practice started," Bianco said, "and so he missed the first two weeks of fall practice and then he had to get his arm back in shape. He was throwing before the injury, so he wasn't that far away."
Huber, a redshirt freshman RHP, is one Bianco is counting on as well.
"I think he's another guy who can fit that role, come in in relief or start," he said.
A lot of eyes were on senior RHP Aaron Barrett this fall. A weekend starter early last spring, as the season went along his innings diminished.
"Barrett pitched better at the end of the fall," Bianco said. "He never really pitched poorly, but he was more dominant at the end. He was throwing the ball in the low 90s. He pitched the summer before he got here, then last season, and then again this summer. So his body and his arm need a little bit of a break. He'll take some weeks off over the holidays and be ready to go. But he has great stuff."
Rothlin (a junior transfer RHP; out much of the fall with a case of mono) joins Crouse among those projected by Bianco to see significant mound time.
The numbers game also caught up with the Rebels this fall due to NCAA limitations on the number of players on the roster (35) and also the above list of reasons some players missed much of fall ball. Bianco said the number of bodies on the pitching staff just wasn't there and it sometimes hindered the workouts.
"There have been years when we had 20 pitchers," he said. "Well that's 10 pitchers on each side for an intrasquad game. This year at one time we only had 10 healthy pitchers. That's five per team, and that makes a difference. We were OK, it was just a little harder to do some of the things we normally do."
Bianco said he believes the pitchers are there. It's just a matter of getting them to perform.
"Last year's team had lot of (pitching) depth," he said. "It's not that this year's team doesn't have a lot of depth when you look one through ten. There are some really good arms out there."
*** Complete fall stats later in the week.
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