By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
HOOVER, Ala. – While his opponent made a fast and firm announcement of his Game 1 starter, Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco did not tip his hand until late Monday evening.
Junior right-hander Mike Mayers, the No. 2 weekend starter, will take the hill for the No. 6-seeded Rebels at 9:30 this morning against No. 11 seed Kentucky in the opening game of the SEC tournament.
How Bianco will use his ace, Bobby Wahl, remains to be seen.
Today’s loser will leave Hoover in the first of four new single-elimination games.
Mayers is 4-5 with a 3.21 earned run average in 811⁄3 innings.
He gave up five earned runs on seven hits over six innings in a 7-1 loss at LSU last Thursday.
He was the winning pitcher against Kentucky on April 26, going six innings with three runs – only one earned – with one hit, three walks and eight strikeouts.
Bianco said disruption of routine was one factor in Wahl’s most disappointing start of the season last Saturday at LSU.
Wahl lasted just 22⁄3 innings and gave up six earned runs on six hits. He was pitching the third game in the series because a weather delay caused him to pitch the third game against Mississippi State three previous week.
“He just looked tired. His routine has been disrupted so many times the last few weeks,” Bianco said. “The first couple of innings, it looked like it would be another Bobby Wahl kind of day. Then in the third inning he struggled to get his slider in the strike zone.
“It was one of those innings that kind of blew up on him.”
Bianco said he wants to pitch Wahl in the SEC tournament, but it may not be as a starter.
The Rebels (36-20) finished the SEC regular season 15-15. Bianco is confident in an NCAA bid and wants Wahl rested and ready for a regional.
Wahl had the lowest earned run average among SEC starters in conference games before his LSU experience. He’s still third in that lofty conversation at 5-0 with a 1.99 ERA.
“There’s no way he’ll start Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. We want him to pitch, but we have to be careful and make sure he’s feeling really well when the regional comes around.”
Kentucky coach Gary Henderson announced Sunday evening that left-hander Jerad Grundy will be his starter against Ole Miss.
The Wildcats (30-24, 11-19) won twice against Ole Miss in the April 25-27 series in Oxford. After that, Kentucky went 2-7 and lost its final three series.
The Rebels had nine runs on 12 hits against Grundy when they won Game 2 of the series.
Henderson says Grundy pitched better after he was moved out of the SEC rotation and made a couple of non-conference starts.
“He was able to relax and get back to his old self that he’d been for a year and a half, and that’s throwing strikes at the knees, commanding his two secondary pitches and getting ahead in the count,” Henderson said.