By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
Relief pitching which had only spotty success in an SEC-opening weekend series loss could be stronger for Ole Miss on the road in Week 2.
After losing twice to Alabama, the Rebels will try to bounce back against Eastern Division opponent Tennessee.
Game times in Knoxville are 5 p.m., today, 2 p.m., Saturday and 1 p.m., Sunday. The Saturday and Sunday games will be televised by SportSouth where available.
Alabama scored 13 runs in the last 15 innings of the series, and Crimson Tide relief pitchers held Ole Miss to one run in 72/3 innings over three days.
Pitching news got worse for Ole Miss on Sunday when closer Jake Morgan left the game in the top of the ninth inning with shoulder pain. An MRI showed no structural damage, however, and Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco is cautiously optimistic that Morgan will be available this weekend.
News continued on an upward turn when junior college transfer R.J. Hively and freshman Bobby Wahl each threw a scoreless inning in Tuesday’s 3-0 win over Samford. The two newcomers had been expected to fill key roles but have been out for several weeks with arm soreness.
Morgan has not allowed an earned run in 182/3 innings. He threw 21/3 innings against Alabama last Friday, combining with Matt Crouse on a 4-0 shutout and earning his fifth save.
Asked about his bullpen, Bianco, smiling, said, “It was pretty good on Friday.”
“Certainly, we didn’t pitch as well this weekend as we had in the previous five games,” he said. “My expectations are really high, and when we don’t do as well as I’m expecting us to, I’m harder on us than anybody … including the media.”
The Vols (17-4, 1-2) lead the SEC in hitting at .337 and in stolen bases with 53 steals in 63 attempts.
They were held in check on the first weekend of SEC play, losing twice at Kentucky. Tennessee won 12-8 on Saturday but scored just six runs in the other two games, losing 5-3 on Friday and 7-3 on Sunday.
If Morgan is not available third-year sophomore Brett Huber, who had 12 saves in 2010, seems the logical choice as closer if the Rebels (16-6, 1-2) find themselves with a late lead to protect.
Bianco, though, has not committed Huber to that role.
“We’re looking for the guy who can come in and get people out, and the more you can do that, the more opportunities you’re going to get,” he said.
Opponents are hitting just .178 against Huber, but he’s walked 12 batters and shares the team lead for wild pitches with four.
Bianco said pitching coach Carl Lafferty has “worked on some things” with Huber, and the dividends of that work may have shown up earlier this week.
Huber, a freshman All-American last season, pitched two scoreless innings against Samford to earn his third save and lower his earned run average to 2.71 over 131/3 innings.
Before the season began Bianco described Morgan and Huber basically as “co-closers,” but it wasn’t long before Morgan elevated himself.
“The thing that made us have success is that we threw a lot of strikes,” Bianco said. “That’s the key to most peoples’ success.”
Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600 or firstname.lastname@example.org.