Working His Way Back

David Phillips knows about the ups and downs of playing baseball. He thinks about it a lot. Maybe too much.

Phillips, the senior outfielding slugger for the Ole Miss Rebels, could be breaking out of what appeared to be a prolonged slump lately. If two hits in two games can do that, that is.

Phillips doubled in last Friday night's 5-0 UM loss to South Carolina. He didn't play Saturday, but his solo home run in the 7th on Sunday put the Rebels up to stay in a 5-4 win.

The victory snapped a four-game losing streak for the ballclub and vaulted the team into an important week. Phillips' homer, coupled with the win, made things quite satisfying for the Nacogdoches, Texas, native.

His start to the season was a blast, literally. Against Louisiana-Monroe in the opening weekend of games, he was 6-for-9 in three games and had a home run each day. But things were never quite as good after that, and Phillips can actually pinpoint when things began to go south.

"Go back to around the Florida series, and that's when I started to struggle a little bit," he said of the late March series. "Against Florida I felt I had a couple of good days, but I didn't really have anything to show for it. That led to me trying to press and do too much against Tennessee.

"Then at Georgia I didn't get to play the first two days," he continued. "I just took that time and didn't get mad and tried to use that to figure out what I was doing wrong, things like that. I was just trying to do too much and was pressing. The past few games I've really tried to be relaxed and not worry about too much."

And it's paid off.

"Baseball's kind of a weird sport like that," said Phillips, currently second on the team in home runs with seven, one behind Matt Smith's eight. "You get up there at the plate and you try real hard and get real mad, and it doesn't work out for you. Sometimes you just have to go up there and say hey I'm going to play like I did when I was nine years old playing with my brother (a freshman this year at Oklahoma State) in the backyard. That's the best approach to take. It's a tough sport, and you have to kind of be care free about it and be relaxed. And I think that's the key."

Hitting coach Matt Mossberg has a pretty complex evaluation of Phillips and his hitting. He's also a Phillips fan.

"David Phillips is an amazing person," said Mossberg, who also works with the outfielders. "Nobody will outwork him. He's a very cerebral person, too. It can be a good thing, but you can out-think yourself in anything. He will always work and is great with suggestions and trying to figure out the approach.

David Phillips

"He started off the season hot and then there was a big lull there," Mossberg continued. "Recently he has been able to come back. The only thing I can really pinpoint is we had some conversations back around the Georgia series. Dave falls on extremes. He‘s either super aggressive and swings at a lot of things outside the zone. Or he is on the end of taking too many pitches that he can drive. It's as simple as trying to get him in the middle. So a few little different ways to think while he's in the box have helped him. He's had some good takes. In that lull he wasn't taking a lot of close balls. It's about understanding the strike zone.

"We looked at film from the Oakland series and the ULM series and also film right now. Physically he's not any different. Mechanically everything is the same. So really for Dave it's about the mental approach and how he's approaching each at bat and in the end trying to simplify things for him a little bit. After each at-bat he goes and logs his at-bat and writes stuff down. Like I said, he's extremely cerebral. At some point I think it's beneficial for him to kind of condense things down and simplify, which is what he's done the last couple of weeks."

If you believe Phillips, with 10 doubles and 25 RBI this season, thinks long ball all the time, you're wrong. He says he's at his best when he doesn't think home run at all.

"Usually when I try to think long ball, good things don't happen," he said. "When you just try to think line drive up the middle, that helps me handle any pitch. If I'm thinking up the middle, then if a guy's throwing a hard fast ball, I can hit it the other way. Or if he throws me a curve ball, I can pull it. So that's my focus every time, just think right over the pitcher's head, line drive. Sometimes you hit a little under it and hit a home run. Sometimes you barrel it up and get a double. That's just what I'm thinking."

Certainly that doesn't diminish the fact that Phillips is a home run threat. Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco said it's what makes Phillips Phillips.

"David can certainly hit it out and he can change a game with one swing of the bat," Bianco said. "There are not a lot of people who can do that, and he can."

Phillips hopes to continue to have a positive effect on this year's offense now that he believes he's rounding back into form. He hopes his best memories of this place are still yet to be made.

"When I came here on my visit and I saw the stadium and the atmosphere here, they're just unbelievable," said Phillips, who attended Texarkana Community College. "It's just a different place. My dad went to Texas A&M, and I'd always gone to games there. It was cool but it's not the same environment. It's been really great here. I've fallen in love with Oxford and Ole Miss. It's a great place and I love it."

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