Baseball is often not played at a very fast pace, but fortunes and confidence can change quickly.
That’s how the weekend went for Ole Miss. Having reached the top 10 in all the polls, the Rebels were swept at home by South Carolina.
It’s the first time the Rebels were swept since this same weekend at Alabama in 2014 and the first time they were swept at home since losing three to No. 2 Vanderbilt in 2013.
The 2014 team turned things around and reached the College World Series. I’m not predicting the same turnaround for this bunch, but I do believe they’ll turn things around and play better.
For stretches of time against South Carolina they really didn’t look very competitive. That wasn’t for the entire series, of course.
Middle relief in each game was solid and gave the Rebels a chance, especially David Parkinson in Game 1 and Wyatt Short in Game 3.
Parkinson allowed only one run in 4 1-3 innings. He scattered five hits and four walks but for the most part was able to strand runners.
Short was better. He pitched a career-long 5 2-3 innings in Sunday’s 4-0 loss, giving up just one hit, one walk and an unearned run.
The postgame conversation was whether Short should enter the weekend rotation. It was a thought Mike Bianco didn’t dismiss but also didn’t embrace.
There are obvious reasons to keep Short where he is, mostly because he’s been outstanding as the closer, and as Bianco pointed out, if you move him away from that role you’ve just got to make other moves, and you don’t know how those will work out.
Bianco went on to say that going TBA with his third starter for the South Carolina series was less about the performance of Sean Johnson, who had not reached the fourth inning in his two previous starts, but more about letting Johnson rest his shoulder coming off the Tommy John surgery. They like Johnson, a tall power-throwing right-hander, and want to make sure he’s as healthy as possible to give him the best chance for success. He wasn’t even on the dress roster for the weekend.
Unless Johnson’s shoulder doesn’t respond and he pitches poorly in workouts this week he’ll be the Game 3 starter against Mississippi State in Starkville.
Short, however, pitched as long or longer in relief than any weekend starter has pitched since Johnson went six innings against Grambling on March 6 and did so against one of the top hitting teams in the SEC. He’s shown he can be effective more than once through the order, and he could be a starting option if things turn south. More south I should say.
Remember, he wouldn’t be the first Ole Miss pitcher under Bianco to be asked to start and close in the same weekend. Stephen Head and Scott Bittle both did it.
It was a humbling weekend for Ole Miss. The Rebels had a meteoric rise into the national conversation but against South Carolina looked like the team that was picked fifth in the SEC West.
There were concerns along the way in a 20-2 start, namely the inconsistency of the offense and the fact that starting pitchers weren’t getting deep into games.
Now it looks like there are multiple holes in the boat. The Gamecocks outplayed the Rebels in every phase.
After an errorless game on Thursday, Ole Miss committed six errors the rest of the way, three in each of the last two games.
Ole Miss had 11 hits in Game 1 but was just 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position.
South Carolina starter Clarke Schmidt wasn’t giving up any walks, and his defense wasn’t giving up errors behind him. Ole Miss had 11 hits, but they were 11 singles, and that makes it hard to score.
The Rebels had no answer for Carolina’s Braden Webb on Friday. Webb gave up a two-run double to Colby Bortles in the first but went on to retire 17 straight.
It was more of the same in Game 3 against Carolina’s Adam Hill. A freshman like Webb, Hill allowed four hits and three walks in six innings, but the Rebels couldn’t get the big hit.
Ole Miss hit .227 for the weekend, .190 over the last two days. The Rebels had 23 hits, but 20 of them were singles. It’s hard to score when you’re only taking one base per hit.
It has not been an overwhelming Ole Miss offense this season, but the Rebels have been able to mask some flaws, because they have been able to get big hits at key times more often than not.
However, it’s tough to rely on timely hitting if you’re not giving yourself enough big-hit opportunities. Those opportunities were there Thursday, and the Rebels did not deliver. They rarely gave themselves a chance on Friday and Saturday.
It is not time for this team to panic, but Ole Miss does have some soul-searching to do this week. There’s no lightweight in the non-conference. Without its middle innings pitching break downs Memphis would have beaten Ole Miss in Oxford on March 2. The rematch is Wednesday night at AutoZone Park. After that the Rebels are at MSU for the weekend.