Bring the Swing

The day after Arkansas spoiled Ole Miss' 10-game winning streak in the first of a three-game series earlier this month, the Rebels responded with a 3-2 win.

Matt Snyder, the team's power-hitting designated hitter, had tweaked his oft-injured shoulder that Friday night. But Ole Miss found ways to manufacture runs Saturday, including infield singles and hit and runs.

Since then, however, the Rebels are 2-3 in their last five conference games, and have scored just 14 runs.

"The past two weekends," junior right fielder Matt Smith said, "we feel we haven't played our best baseball."

Snyder's absence has obviously been a contributing factor in the team's collective struggles at the plate. He provides protection for Smith, while further balancing a rather right-handed-heavy batting order.

Head coach Mike Bianco has tried a lineup shuffle to adjust, with Taylor Hashman moved to the leadoff spot and Tim Ferguson slotted behind Smith at cleanup.

Tim Ferguson

Still, the ability to consistently score runs has remained an issue, as evidenced by consecutive complete games from Crimson Tide starters, Jimmy Nelson and Nathan Kilcrease, over the weekend.

"We talk about quality at-bats, and it comes from confidence for sure," Bianco said. "When you're confident you're more aggressive and you swing with more authority. Over the last two weeks, we look like we just haven't swung it like that. And it's not something that happens purposely.

"But sometimes when you're not confident, you worry about mechanics and you worry about fundamental things which are important."

The Rebels returned to Swayze Field this week with a simple goal: swing hard.

Each hitter, from Smith to Ferguson, took a turn in the batter's box to regain confidence. Put simply, Monday and Tuesday were days to attack the strike zone and find pitches to drive, all in an attempt to release any pressure felt by a slumping offense in need of a spark.

"(Monday) we had a couple of rounds of (batting practice) where it was just swing as hard as you can," Ferguson said. "It's all about swinging hard and getting tough. Coach B(ianco), that's what he does good; he gets our mindset right for the upcoming weekend. That's exactly what we need to do. We need to forget everything and just swing."

The free-swinging mentality was first mentioned by Bianco Sunday. Ferguson said the 10th-year head coach "kind of got on us" and "told us to swing." Apparently the message was well-received.

"We just came out and did it," Ferguson said. "(Freshman second baseman Alex) Yarbrough hit a ball hard. I hit a ball hard. Hashman hit a ball hard. Everyone started hitting a ball hard. I think he's doing a good job of getting us out of that monotony. I think we kind of fell in that trap the last couple of weeks."

"At the end of the day, the bat has to travel through the strike zone with some force," Bianco said. "That's one of the things we've always talked about since I've been here. So we mentioned it yesterday. You have to score to win.

"You don't score, you don't win."

Slip-sliding away:

Ask around the Ole Miss locker room and it's really no secret; the Rebels, a dead-red team, sit on fastballs and aren't afraid to jump on one, no matter the count of a respective at-bat.

However, after watching the last few weeks, Smith has noticed a pattern. Pitchers are keying on the Rebels' aggressiveness and challenging them with off-speed pitches, namely sliders. And until Ole Miss proves it can take some of those close pitches, Smith says, "they'll keep throwing us sliders."

"It's weird, just because our offense is built on a fastball offense like anybody else's," he said. "This year we've implanted hitting off-speed earlier if it's like a hittable pitch. I think some people get too aggressive and try in certain situations to do too much.

"Just relax a little more."

As Smith notes, the Rebels have always had the ability to swing at an off-speed pitch if it's a strike. Lately, though, he and his teammates are taking hittable pitches, instead of attacking the best pitch, regardless of whether it's a fastball or not.

"Guys are guessing fastball and not picking up the spin of that ball," Ferguson said. "We have a lot of strikeouts on this team, but Coach B has told us before, it's not really all about the strikeouts. It's about the swings. So that is one of our weaknesses.

"But if you throw a fastball, we can crush it."

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