OXFORD – Ole Miss baseball has long since progressed as a program past the point of reveling in moral victories.
That being said, some troubling questions were answered – a corner turned, perhaps – in the Rebels’ first SEC series loss of the season.
Georgia and LSU were projected to be the class of the conference and national contenders. Ole Miss won just once in Baton Rouge but had its opportunities in two one-run losses.
The Rebels got good pitching from their starters, all three of them, and the third weekend starter was one of the biggest issues this team – which slid four spots to No. 15 in this week’s Baseball America Top 25 – had going on.
Additional conference series victories would have been few and well-spaced without more production from the Game 3 starting pitcher.
Scott Bittle, the third starter in that slot this season, showed his dominant form of last season with seven innings of one-hit shutout ball against a strong, balanced lineup.
A week after walking six of 10 batters he faced against Alabama, Bittle walked two and struck out 10 in seven innings.
It’s early to say the rotation is cured, but Bittle’s effort was promising.
Of course Bittle in the rotation means you don’t have Bittle in the bullpen.
Pitching depth is not a strength of this team. There are parts Bianco can move around, but there will be times – perhaps this week with three non-conference games – that teams expose that lack of depth.
The success of Jake Morgan in relief made the move of Bittle to Sunday starter an easier decision.
Morgan dominated the Tigers on Friday night, allowing one hit, an unearned run and striking out six of nine batters he faced in two innings in the Rebels’ 7-4 win.
The Tigers were more successful against Morgan Sunday, the second time they faced him. That familiarity occasionally hurt Bittle in relief appearances last year.
Even in giving up three hits and two earned runs in one inning Sunday, Morgan filled up the strike zone with 17 strikes in 24 pitches.
LSU has a solid pitching staff, too, and there were fewer offensive highlights to note.
One, however, was the two-home run performance by freshman Matt Snyder as the designated hitter in Friday’s 7-4 Ole Miss win.
On a team with spotty power, Snyder could be a big key if he can deliver big swings more consistently. He was 0-for-6 with two walks and three strikeouts the remainder of the series, so his weekend showed two things: He’s long-ball capable and still must adjust to SEC pitching.
If Snyder can accelerate the freshman growth process, other guys in the lineup will see better pitches.
Perhaps then the pieces will be in place for revelry for the right reasons.
Parrish Alford (parrish.alford@djournal .com) covers Ole Miss for the Journal and blogs daily at NEMS360.com.
Parrish Alford/Daily Journal