Some notes and thoughts on Ole Miss baseball at the mid-way point of the SEC season …
There was a reason Ole Miss hit .382 in a sweep of Arkansas, and it turns out that reason had a lot more to do with Arkansas than Ole Miss.
The Razorbacks have the SEC’s worst pitching staff. Stats bear that out.
They’re not bad on offense. SEC sweeps are hard to come by, and that one should not be overlooked for the Rebels. The fact remains that winning three against Arkansas at home was by no means a statement that Ole Miss has arrived and previous issues have been resolved.
They have not, and they were rekindled early in a 2-1 series loss at Alabama, a light-hitting team with very good pitching.
Ole Miss got its win in the series on Friday when Brady Bramlett went six innings, Will Stokes one and Wyatt Short two as they all combined on a four-hit shutout.
It was the second-straight week that Bramlett has pitched at least six innings and has been dominant along the way.
He locates his fastball really well, and he’s been better than I thought he’d be this season.
Sophomore left-hander David Parkinson had another good start and gave the Rebels a chance to win in Game 2.
It’s hard to find much good after the starting pitching.
The Rebels hit just .192 for the series. They had a string of 13 1-3 scoreless innings within the three games, and even with that, still had a chance to win the series, a reflection on Alabama.
The Rebels did not win the series because the area of the roster that has been the most consistent failed them on Sunday.
While starting pitching and offense have had issues this season the bullpen has been there.
Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco turned to Sean Johnson to start Game 3. Johnson, coming back from last season’s Tommy John surgery, had not pitched in two weeks.
He had some issues with a small strike zone and gave up three walks along with four hits over four innings.
But he left the game trailing just 1-0. Johnson hung up zeroes in three of his four innings and got the game under control for Ole Miss.
You can’t ask for much more from your starter.
You can ask for more from your bullpen.
Ole Miss ended that 13 1-3 scoreless inning string when Henri Lartigue drove in Tate Blackman with a one-out sacrifice fly.
That tied the game at 1, and as much of a struggle as it had been to get to that point, the Rebels were back in the game, because, well, relief pitching is what they do.
Not this time. Alabama, which began the weekend hitting just .252 in conference play, stroked three Ole Miss relievers for six runs on six hits in the bottom of the fifth.
Among them was Andy Pagnozzi. While it was playing out, a guy on Twitter asked me if Pagnozzi should be a weekend starter. Pagnozzi has done some good things and shown a lot of talent this season. He’ll have more big innings this season but not as an SEC starter right now.
Pagnozzi recorded only one out, and that was a fly ball to the warning track in left that nearly left the park.
Matt Denny is a situational guy who isn’t expected to pitch for long stretches anyway. He faced only one batter but walked his guy on five pitches, one of them a wild pitch that allowed a runner to advance to third.
Stokes gave up three hits in his two-thirds of the fifth inning, two of those hits RBI doubles.
When the dust finally settled Alabama led 7-1.
A six-run deficit is a tall task for any offense, but for Ole Miss it was akin to a death sentence. The Rebels have scored just seven runs total in four games last week.
What we’re seeing from Ole Miss baseball right now is the team that SEC coaches picked to finish fifth in the Western Division.
I wrote at the beginning of the season that relying on two junior college transfers making their first run through the conference was a concern. Chad Smith has left the rotation, and Sean Johnson has shifted from locked in on Sundays to TBA.
Bianco was hopeful that a more experienced lineup with J.B. Woodman, Colby Bortles, Errol Robinson and others would lead to more production on offense.
That’s what happened on the 2014 CWS team you may recall. Some older guys like Auston Bousfield, Will Allen and Sikes Orvis had career years.
Experience has not translated to better offense this season.
This is not a particularly fast and athletic roster, and that shows up when the Rebels get a couple of singles in the same inning yet can’t get around to score. The Rebels’ 23 stolen bases are the fewest in the SEC, their eight sacrifice hits next to the fewest.
The Rebels got off to the fast non-conference start which included a big series win against Louisville. You had the feeling that maybe the pitching would hold up and the offense would come around.
Both phases have shown the ability to be good at times but have not shown the consistency necessary for the program’s annual goals of regional host, conference champion, national seed, etc.
Ole Miss is 7-8 at the mid-way point of the SEC. Some previous Ole Miss teams have made a nice second-half run from here.
That could happen for this Ole Miss team. If it does it will be because there are some average – by SEC standards — teams left on the schedule. I’m thinking Georgia and Auburn here. Even though Georgia just got a series win over South Carolina the Bulldogs’ SEC record (6-9) cries inconsistency.
There are also some teams that on its better days Ole Miss can handle – Kentucky and LSU.
If Ole Miss goes on a run it won’t be because there is a great transformation between now and the end of the regular season. It’s hard to remake a team on the fly.
With five SEC series remaining we’ve reached the “You are who you are part of the schedule.”