Preview: Pitching duel in Columbia?

The South Carolina Gamecocks have won four straight SEC baseball series and will look to continue that streak this weekend at Carolina Stadium when national mid-year Pitcher of the Year Drew Pomeranz and the Ole Miss Rebels come to town. Look inside as GamecockAnthem.com's John Klauber provides an in-depth preview of the SEC showdown.

Ole Miss Rebels

(23-11, 7-5 SEC play). When playing Away: 6-3, Neutral field: 2-1.

National Polls: #14 Ole Miss; #10 S.C. (Baseball America), #18 Ole Miss; #13 S.C. (ESPN/USA Today), #19 Ole Miss; #13 S.C.(NCBWA National Poll), #18 Ole Miss; #5 S.C. (College Baseball News). Boyd's World RPI: #44 Ole Miss, #19 S.C.

Ole Miss comes into this weekend series... after losing 5 games in the last eight, which includes a pair of losses against Tennessee (in Oxford), one loss at UGa and a loss to Memphis (4/13) during the Auto Zone Classic in Memphis. Their loss to Memphis was an uncharacteristic one as they stranded base runners and had 3 errors in the field. This could be a dangerous team looking to rebound on the road against a ranked opponent. They have played in-conference games against Kentucky (2 out of 3 won in Lexington), Florida (2 out of 3 won in Oxford), Tennessee (1 out of 3 won in Oxford) and UGa (1 out of 3 in Athens).

Ole Miss news and notes... Drew Pomeranz, Ole Miss's ace pitcher and Friday starter will go up against Carolina's best, Blake Cooper in the Friday match-up. Pomeranz was named the SEC's Mid-Season Player of the Year (SECsports.com) and he currently leads the SEC in individual pitching (1.57ERA); Blake Cooper is currently #9 in individual pitching with an ERA of 2.85. Pomeranz also leads the SEC in strike-outs with 80 K's thus far in the season. Blake possesses a team-leading 47 strikeouts for the year. This could be an intersting match-up with limited runs to start the series.

Ole Miss is currently ranked #7 in team batting in the SEC (.300BA, 243 runs, 158 walks, 248 K's.), while S.C. is ranked #9 in the same category (.294BA, 235 runs, 152 walks, 248 K's). Carolina's production at the plate was stifled last week by some excellent Vandy pitching (scattering 18 hits and scoring 7 runs in a three game series) and I would think better production with our bats will occur this weekend... hopefully, starting Friday night against Pomeranz. For the Gamecocks, Whit Merrifield is currently 3rd in the SEC with 40 runs scored.

Ole Miss is currently ranked #3 in team pitching in the SEC (3.77ERA, 148 runs [126 earned], 117 walks, 312 K's); S.C. is ranked #2 in team pitching (3.43ERA, 128 runs [110 earned], 107 walks, 309 K's). Carolina's ERA is spread out among its starters (save Sam Dyson who is currently having a time finding the strike zone) and is a result of a true "team pitching" effort... and excellent called match-ups by Coach Tanner out of the pen... to get the right pitcher in front of an opponent's key batter at a crucial time in the game. Ole Miss's batting order will present a similar challenge as Vanderbilt's and Auburn's line-up. Ole Miss batters are 10-2 when facing left-handed starters; they are 13-8 against right-handed starters. Cooper, Dyson and Brown are (of course) right-handed weekend starters.

When Ole Miss has the lead after six innings, their record is 22-2; when trailing after six it is 1-7... tied, 0-1. Reveals some weakness in arms coming out of the pen. They are 0-3 in low scoring games (2 runs or less) and 6-4 when they score 3-5 runs in a game. If they hit 0 homers in a game their record is 7-5; one home run in a game their record is 10-3. If they hit +2 homers, they are 6-2. If an opponent hits 0 homers in a game, Ole Miss is 13-3; 1 homer hit by an opponent and they are 9-2. +2 homers and thir record is 1-5. It is important for them to get the lead and have starters go as long as they can (Friday/Saturday games) in conference match-ups. They are winless in all conference Sunday games this year.

Ole Miss batting order. Coach Bianco has worked hard to get the right bats inserted at the right times. Some of those choices have been made after a weekday game, where a batter may have shown a hot streak. The team batting average is .300 (.443 slg. pct.) compared to opponent's team batting average of .256 (.388SP). All in all, it is a pretty stable batting order, hitting +.300 in the 1-5 order. Some major switches were made from the bottom of the order and rotating some of them into the 1-4 order. Let us take a look and try to decipher who we will see this weekend... with a few comments added, along with the usual information about their hitting numbers. "rotated in - slot" means they have seen the most action in the batting slot in SEC match-ups. Additional changes by Coach Bianco can be expected.

Tim Ferguson, CF (R-R, Jr.); Lead-off hitter. .319BA, 140AB, 34r, 4HR, 17RBI (.465SP): Started year in 3rd slot; consistent in lead-off since game 2 against Florida.

Kevin Mort, SS (R-R, Sr.); rotated into 2nd slot. .320BA, 121AB, 21r, 2HR, 14RBI (.408SP): Was #9 hitter until UGa series (game #2). Moved to #7 (UGa gm. 2), now #2.

Matt Smith, DH (R-R, Tr.Jr.); stable 3rd slot guy. .355BA, 104AB, 35r, 6HR, 29RBI (.579SP): Solid hitter relied upon for run advancement and RBI.

Zach Miller, 3B (R-R, RS Sr.); rotated into 4th slot. .352BA, 123AB, 27r, 1HR, 35RBI (.440SP): Was hitting primarily in 5 slot, but moved to #4 in UGa series (game #3).

Alex Yarbrough, 2B (S-R, Fr.); rotated into 5th slot. .304BA, 120AB, 23r, 21RBI (.392SP): 1&2 slots early in year (Ky, Fl, Tn); 7& 6 slots (UGa, 1&2). Started 5 slot (UGa #3).

Taylor Hightower, C (S-R, So.); 6th slot (Memphis game). .273BA, 97AB, 13r, 16RBI (.303SP): 7,8 and 9 slot hitter most of season. Look for Phillips to hit 6th against us.

Miles Hamblin, 1B (L-R, Jr.); rotated into 7th slot. .240BA, 91AB, 8r, 3HR, 24RBI (.417SP): history of hitting in 7, 8 slots. Recently inserted in games for late innings.

Taylor Hashman, LF (R-R, Tr. Sr.); rotated into 8th slot. .263BA, 53AB, 17r, 3HR, 12RBI (.475SP): history of hitting in 7, 8 slots. Recently inserted (ph/pr) for late production.

David Phillips, RF (L-L, Sr.); 9th slot (Memphis); historically hitting 6th. .250BA, 102AB, 17r, 5HR, 23RBI (.519SP): See #6 slot notes.

Others seeing playing time:

Tanner Mathis, ph/pr LF/DH (L-L, Fr.) .324BA, 71AB, 16r, 11RBI (.394SP). Has seen some time 1&2 slots (early in season), 6&7 slots. Primarily used off of bench as ph.

Matt Snyder, DH (L-R, So.). .306BA, 62AB, 16r, 4HR, 15RBI (.581SP). Was regular 4 slot hitter (8 games). Did not play against Fla, UGa (gm #3); hampered by injuries.

Mike Snyder, ph/1B (R-R, So.). .239BA, 43AB, 8r, 1HR, 6RBI, (.348SP). Used in 8 & 6 slots (UGa, gms #2/#3). Hit 6 slot (UT, gm #3). Primarily off-the-bench pinch hitter.

Matt Tracey, DH/p (L-L, LHP, Jr.). .208BA, 24AB, 5r, 1HR, 2RBI (.458SP). Recently hit in #2 slot (UGa gms #1/#2) and #7 spot (UGa, gm #3). Combination pitcher/hitter.

Ole Miss pitching. Ole Miss possesses a team ERA of 3.77, opponents are currently hitting only .257 against Ole Miss pitching. Carolina is 9-3 versus lefties (Pomeranz) and 16-4 against righties (Barrett). However, Carolina is 1-5 when trailing after six innings, which is a concern for the Friday and Saturday match-ups.

Ole Miss pitchers match up well against S.C. hitters, with Pomeranz going deep into innings (if needed, he can go into the 100's) on Friday starts. Aaron Barrett, their Saturday starter, averages about 6.2 innings on the bump and we will need Sam Dyson to match him... or else, we will have to go to the bullpen early. Realistically, given Friday and Saturday's match-ups, the opportunity to struggle early against their starters is real. The possibility of going 0-2 is there, given what these two starters can bring. Especially if they have a 3-4 run lead to work with late in games one and two. Yardcock hitters will have to try to get after them early because both have proven that they get better as the game progresses.

Drew Pomerantz (6-0, 1.57ERA [LHP, L-L, Jr.]; 51.2IP, 32h, 10r [9e], 80SO; opponents hitting .173) is the cream of the SEC crop. He has been dominant in his outings around the SEC. He is a big bodied lefty and is solid across the board with two legit swing and miss pitches. His fastball will run in the neighborhood of 89-92 mph and he can throw it to both sides of the plate. His curve is his best offering, coming in @ 77-79 mph with good break coming in. He will throw an upper-70s change-up and mixes it in with his curve. Sometimes, Pomeranz struggles with the mechanics of getting his motion working together, which can lead to inconsistent command and can lead to bouts of wildness of his pitches.

But usually, Pomerantz is in a groove when he hits the bump and lack of control is rarely a problem. Goes the distance with a pitch count in the 90s-100s. His most dominant performance to date was against UGa last weekend, throwing 15 strike outs (5 innings of k's) in 8 innings of work. He averages about 10 K's per game, going 7 innings against SEC foes in 2010.His change-up is his weapon against right-handed hitters. Sometimes his delivery will be sacrificed for power. Will go high in the 2010 MLB Draft, no doubt.

Saturday brings Aaron Barrett to the bump. Aaron (6-1, 1.90ERA [RHP, R-R, Tr.Sr.]; 52IP, 36h, 13r [11e], 63SO; opponents hitting .200) was a porduct of Wabash Valley Community College and is a big 6'4" RHP who works both sides of the plate with an 88-91MPH fastball that can touch 94 mph. His slider is a quality second pitch and he has (or is) close to perfecting a circle change-up pitch. His arm motion towards homeplate works well and he has had no major delivery issues... his control and command of pitches cold use a little more development. Averages a little over 6.2 innings pitched in SEC match-ups and had his best outing against UGa last Saturday (7.1IP, 0r, 2h, 3w, 10K's).

Aaron Barrett can dominate the first five innings of a game when he is in command of his pitches. Whoever faces him on the bump for Carolina had better come ready to match his performance or it could be a long afternoon of baseball. The most runs he has given up in SEC play is 3 runs against Florida (6ip, 4h, 3r [3e], 6w, 9 k's).

Sunday is certainly winnable for the Yardcocks... there have been changes to the Ole Miss Sunday starting role since the beginning of SEC play, resulting in Rebel losses for all Sunday SEC match-ups. As of late, the Yardcocks have looked impressive with Jay Brown and a host of others contributing to Sunday wins and that will most probably continue. The key is to use (minimally) the arms of Webb, Roth, Price, Carter, Mata and Taylor... the key for the Gamecocks would be the emergence of Colby Holmes. His use in The Citadel game this Wednesday will limit his use this weekend. But you never know what his future may be as he is a strong RHP with good velocity on his pitches.

Their most recent Sunday pitcher of record is David Goforth, who started against Tennessee (4IP, 5h, 3r [2e], 3w, 4k's) and UGa (5.1IP, 9h, 4r [3e], 3w, 2k's)... both losses, primarily because both teams made the Rebels go deep into their bullpen on a Sunday afternoon. Goforth (1-2, 6.04ERA [RHP, R-R, RS So.]; 28.1IP, 36h, 25r [19e], 17SO; opponents hitting .313) stands about 5'11", throws alot of fastballs and has a really good fastball pitch hitting mid-90's. He will use a slider with his fastball,occasionally mixing in his change-up pitch. But the sequence of pitches... fastball, slider, change-up, came as a reliever for Goforth. Mentally, he is still working on pre-game preparation as a starter and has had some rough outings in that role.

Other Sunday starters have included Trent Rothlin (Florida; 2.2IP, 4h, 4r [4e], 1K) and Matt Tracey (Kentucky; 4.2IP, 6h, 6r [5e], 3w,3K). Trent Rothlin (3-3, 5.12ERA [RHP, R-R, Jr.]; 31.2IP, 30h, 22r [18e], 20SO; .248 oba) is a JuCo transfer from Walthers State C.C.; he was a transfer to Walthers from Clemson University. He has good ball movement and feel for his change-up. He has a strong arm that was hampered a bit in Fall camp at Clempson. He has been used most recently in middle to late inning relief on Saturdays against Tennessee and UGa. Matt Tracey (1-2, 5.35ERA [LHP' L-L, Jr.]; 33.2IP, 38h, 23r [20e], 30SO; .290 oba) has been used predominately in relief. He has appeared in 5 SEC games, going an average 2.2 innings/game. He closed Ole Miss game against Memphis this Tuesday (1.2IP; 1h, 1w, 1k).

Othe relief pitchers that Ole Miss has used include Matt Crouse (2-0, 2.61ERA [LHP, L-L, So.]; 20.2IP, 19h, 7r [6e], 22SO; .232 oba). Crouse spent one year at Young Harris (Jay Brown attended 2 years at Young Harris) and transferred to Ole Miss after his Freshman season with Coach Rick Robinson. Crouse throws a fastball in the low '90s. He possesses a good breaking ball and a great change-up itch. He was a teammate of Mike and Matt Snyder (who are current players with the Rebels) and played his Summer AAU ball with the Snyder brothers on the Virginia Cardinals team. Crouse started against Memphis in Tuesday's game (4.1IP; 6h, 4r [2e], 2k's), but is used as a relief pitcher on Saturdays.

Ole Miss closers are Brett Huber and Eric Callender. Huber (0-0, 3.67ERA [RHP, R-R, RS Fr.]; 3Sv, 27IP, 20h, 12r [11e], 30SO; .215 oba) was compared to the Astros Shane Reynolds in his size and style of pitching. He is broad-shouldered and has a thick build; his mechanics are similar to Reynolds in that he throws downhill from the bump using his height, quick arm movement and a tight release. He has an 88-90 MPH fastball and a curveball that tails downward at the plate. He has confidence in his change-up and will use it effectively. He is used extensively in late relief or as a closer in the first and third games of weekend series.

Eric Callender (2-1, 4.71ERA [RHP, R-R, Tr. Jr.]; 3 Sv, 28.2IP, 38h, 16r [15e], 26SO; .319 oba) is a transfer from Meridian C.C., and has been used in middle-late relief. He has thrown as a reliever in 5 SEC games, averaging just under 2.0 innings/game. Callender's fastball is in the high 80s. His out pitch is a mid to high 70's curveball with a tall, hard break at the plate.He has a very good pick-off move to first base. Callender pitches well in the strike zone for k's or for hits that become outs to end innings.

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