"It's always tough," said Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco, just two weeks from this Friday away from the start of his 10th season in Oxford. "Everybody's excited to start practice. Fortunately for us, we were able to get inside the IPF and get some stuff done. We got everything accomplished we wanted to do outside. But nothing can substitute for being outside."
The Rebels were able to get outside the past couple of days, and Bianco said his pitchers did well, especially Sunday.
"It was a really good day for the pitchers," he said. "Like we all know, the pitchers should be ahead of the hitters (at this point), but it doesn't always work that way. All 10 guys threw (Sunday), and all threw well."
Everyone's best and most accurate guess is that Drew Pomeranz will be the Friday starter this season. The junior LHP has proven that the past couple of seasons, especially the way he finished last year.
Bianco said the coaches are keeping an open mind as far as the pitching staff.
"It's kind of wide open, if you want to put it that way," he said. "Pomeranz looked terrific. But (Aaron) Barrett and all the guys on down pitched well (Sunday). You don't want to say surprisingly, but we were very pleased. It means they've done a lot of things over the break. The strike percentage was abnormally high, and not just with fastballs. A lot of time it takes them a while to throw balls into the strike zone, so they beat hitters just because of velocity. But that wasn't the case. They did that, but they had success because they were able to throw a lot of strikes and were able to throw their breaking ball into the strike zone. They made it look easy most of the day."
Two new pitchers expected to help are Trent Rothlin (junior RHP) and Matt Crouse (sophomore LHP). Bianco said they are anxious to see more of those two in the preseason practices.
"Trent has done very well, and Matt has done very well. We just haven't seen enough of them yet, but we certainly have high expectations for both of those guys," he said. "With each outing we learn more about them. We're looking for both of them to log a lot of innings this year."
A couple of other new players are beginning to emerge and should get some quality playing time this season.
"Probably the two guys that stick out position player-wise are Tanner Mathis and Alex Yarbrough," Bianco said of the freshmen outfielder and infielder respectively. "Mathis had probably one of the best falls. It looked like if we were to play (today), he's going to be in the mix, if not starting. He also hurt his knee late in the fall and it still bothers him a little bit. He's had a little swelling and he had to DH (Sunday). We're trying to get through it. The doctors say he should be fine by the first game of the season. He had a tremendous fall."
Juco transfer Miles Hamblin, a versatile catcher and consistent hitter, should also figure into the mix, especially since freshmen infielder Evan Frazar and outfielder Zach Lowery were dismissed from the team in December. The total number of players available is 33. Delete from that number unavailable pitchers Jake Morgan and Jon Andy Scott, out for the season with Tommy John surgeries, and the number is down to 31.
"With the situation we're in with two guys leaving the team at the end of the fall - guys who probably had chances to play as freshmen, - we're a little thinner than we would like or have been in a while," Bianco said. "We're talking in general. (Hamblin) makes up for a lot of that because he had a really good fall behind the plate and swung the bat. He can play first, third and even the outfield if we put him out there. He's just a good athlete and a really good player. He understands the game. We'll probably use him in a lot of those positions."
The rehab of Scott and Morgan continues but, as always with Tommy John surgery, that process takes time, patience, and effort.
"The rehab for that surgery is long and tenuous," Bianco said. "They start so slow and each week, they gain a little bit. I think they were (throwing) at like 30 feet off the mound last week. I'm sure they're happy to be doing something besides the rehab and the training room. They were able to put the ball in their hands. But they're still a long ways away. Usually to this point, you don't have hiccups or those types of things. It's when they start to extend the throwing program out. It's going as planned so far."
Bianco said veteran Matt Smith wants to pitch, but they'll wait and see. The first baseman now in the outfield was injured in his first appearance on the mound two years ago and hasn't pitched in a game since.
"Every day he asks me," Bianco said of Smith pitching. "Right now, I don't think so. We realize he can do that. But right now, we're going to go with what we got. I don't want to extend those guys. Matt showed years ago he could do it. I think when he got injured, it was just a fear that it could set him back. But it's a long season. We'll just see how things play out."
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