Smith, Mathis Talk Reb Baseball

Matt Smith likes this baseball team, his fourth since arriving at Ole Miss. The Rebels are 20-6 heading into a weekend series with Tennessee and stand 4-2 in SEC play.

The third-year junior from Milan, Ga., breaks it down a little for us.

"I feel like this team is really good when we get runners in scoring position," he said. "It seems like a lot of the time this year we've gotten timely hits when we need them. It also seems like that when we get up, our pitching staff does a good job of kind of keeping the other teams at bay, from our starters to people coming out of the bullpen."

Matt Smith

That isn't all there is, but that's certainly a big part of this season so far. Defensively the Rebels are strong again, a trademark, along with well above average pitching, of the Mike Bianco era.

Smith said some new faces on the mound have lifted Ole Miss in some key games.

"You look at people like (Brett) Huber and (Eric) Callender and some of the younger guys and newer guys that are here this year. They've done a good job this season," he said. "And (David) Goforth starting Tuesday night, and (Matt) Tracy coming in and closing them down. You needed everybody on board."

And then there's Matt Smith himself, who is recovering from that pulled hamstring a couple of weeks ago. He's another who can be called on to help the cause at several positions.

Once upon a time he pitched, but that is another story for another day from way back. He's been in the outfield this season – until that hammy pull – and last season and the year before was at first base. Now he's been DH'ing because he can't run full speed just yet. But he's close, he says.

"My hamstring feels a lot better. It's still not 100 percent. I'd say I'm probably 80-90 percent right now. When I run fast and take big strides is when it kind of bites me a little bit. When I have to full-out sprint, that's when I start to feel it."

He hopes to be back soon, and some of that is contingent upon a teammate's return as well.

"Whenever (Matt) Snyder gets back (from a second dislocated shoulder), then hopefully I'll be able to get back out in the field. But I feel good overall. I'm just ready to get back out there."

Matt Snyder could return this weekend, but that remains to be seen.

"There are a lot of guys on this team that have a lot of versatility," Smith said. "(Miles) Hamblin can catch. He can play first. Mike Snyder's mixing in at first. He's practiced some in the outfield. He's athletic enough to do different things. Just a number of guys who can do different things. I think all of those things are keys as to why we're so good this season so far."

Tanner Mathis leads the Rebels in hitting with a .359 average. He's played in 23 of the Rebels' 26 games, starting 14, mainly in left field.

The Lake Charles, La., freshman is one of those Smith referred to who have stepped in and stepped up in a big way.

But Mathis said it isn't like he was totally comfortable from day one. It's been a process. And yet he made the transition from high school star to effective college player rather quickly.

Tanner Mathis

"I feel better out here every day," Mathis said. "I'm more and more comfortable. It was a long fall, and that allowed me to get used to everything. Now we've played almost 30 games, and in high school that's almost a season. So I've learned what to do, and I know just to go out and do it."

Mathis has certainly done that. He's become one of the players, even as a first-year guy, that teammates expect to do well. That doesn't mean, however, Mathis doesn't take advantage of the knowledge and experience of the veterans on the squad.

"If I have a question, I'm not afraid to ask the older guys anything," he said. "Sometimes somebody will even come up and ask me a question. That's kind of the way this team works. It's team first and that's an awesome thing. I wasn't sure how it would be."

But he's found a lot of it to his liking, and the Rebels have certainly found his game to their liking.

"I didn't know what to expect," he said of his arrival in college. "The mental side of it is probably the biggest adjustment (to college baseball). I had a little bit of it in high school."

That's because he played at Barbe High, one of the country's premier prep baseball schools.

"I knew a lot of this stuff in high school, but I really understand it more now," Mathis said. "Deep breaths, flush it and move on, so what, all those things that we use to mentally approach things. (In high school) it was pretty much go out and play. And now everything has a meaning. That's what makes college different."

Being able to learn that quickly has made Tanner Mathis one of the reasons the Rebels are where they are at this point in the 2010 season.

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