By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – It’s not often you can lose the fifth pick in the draft and get better.
Ole Miss baseball coach Mike Bianco believes that is the case for his 2011 pitching staff, however.
Drew Pomeranz earned All-America and SEC Pitcher of the Year honors in 2010. He became the school’s career strikeout leader with 344, and only four players got phone calls before his came from the Cleveland Indians in June.
This season – which begins Friday at 3 p.m. against Wright State – Bianco believes the Rebels will have more talent spread throughout the staff, and he has the unique problem of going into the season with two proven shutdown closers – Brett Huber and Jake Morgan.
“We’re not like the major leagues where we play six times a week, and one guy comes in and pitches one inning,” said Bianco at his preseason press conference Monday. “We’ve never had a closer pitch just one inning. On a Friday night he may have to pitch three innings to win the game.”
Morgan is back after missing the 2010 season as he recovered from reconstructive elbow surgery. He was a key player on the 2009 super regional team with a 4-1 mark, nine saves and 55 strikeouts in 412/3 innings.
Huber stepped into Morgan’s void last year earned freshman All-America honors from three different media outlets. He was 2-0 with 12 saves, a 3.54 ERA and 54 strikeouts in 481/3 innings.
Morgan says he feels like he’s in the best shape of his life.
The first time this season that he reached back and threw off the mound with all his strength is a memory that will last a while.
“It was emotional. It was like a sigh of relief to know that I was through … done and ready to go,” he said.
Bianco says he expects to go to Morgan first but emphasizes the importance of depth. He also doesn’t want to assign labels like “closer” and “set-up” man to either Morgan or Huber.
“We’re just trying to get to the end of the game and win,” he said.
The Rebels’ pitching staff ranked fifth in the SEC with a 4.96 earned run average.
They were third in the SEC in strikeouts with 555, ranking behind leaders South Carolina and Vanderbilt, which both played more games.
The Rebels also had the second-most walks in the SEC, surpassed only by Georgia, which also posted a league-worst 8.51 ERA.
Ole Miss will start junior left-hander Matt Crouse – 5-1 with a 3.74 ERA a year ago – on Friday. Junior right-hander David Goforth will start Saturday and junior college transfer Austin Wright, a left-hander, on Sunday.
“Last year we struggled on the mound. Statistically it was one of the worst years we’ve had,” Bianco said. “We were just too inconsistent to have success day in and day out. This year’s staff looks better 1-10 and is more talented than last year’s by far.”
Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600 or firstname.lastname@example.org.