BY GREGG ELLIS
Is it a slump Ole Miss finds itself in these days or just a slide most teams encounter in the course of a long season?
Mike Bianco firmly depicts the situation as a slump, one that's knocked his previously second-ranked team out of the polls.
But the eighth-year coach is also quick to point out it's not anyone aspect that's led to the Rebels losing six out of their last 10 games and 11 of the last 19 since bolting out to a 9-0 start.
Instead, he sees lapses in all three phases – hitting, pitching and fielding.
“A lot of times, when you don't have success, it's easy to point to hitting, pitching or fielding the ball,” said Bianco, who is one win shy of 300 at Ole Miss and 400 overall. “But for us, it's been all areas.
“We've not done well in all three phases. But the good thing is that last week we've pitched a lot better.”
And fielded better, too.
In a 5-4 victory against Memphis on Wednesday, the Rebels played error-free baseball. And in the last five games, they've committed just one en route to getting their fielding percentage back to .970.
That in itself is encouraging for Bianco, whose team opens a three-game slate at home today against Vanderbilt. First pitch against the Commodores, who are 19-7 and ranked as high as No. 8 by USA Today, is set for at 6:30 p.m.
The Rebels (17-11) are looking to get back on track after dropping back-to-back SEC series against Florida and Alabama after opening conference play by taking two of three at rival Mississippi State.
But note, Vandy has won three-straight series against Ole Miss, including six of the last nine games.
“We haven't had a lot to hang our hats on the last two weeks,” said Bianco, whose team is in a three-way tie for first in the Western Division at 4-5 with Alabama and Auburn. “We just haven't played that well.
“If you look around the country, there's a lot of good teams that haven't played well. That's just the way it is. It's a long season. It's about how you play in the end and put your self in position. But we know you can't dig yourself too big of a hole to climb out.”
To start the climb, the Rebels' bats have got to get hot again.
Currently, they're batting .305. In conference play, though, they're hitting just .280.
However, Bianco is hopeful Ole Miss' two-game winning streak will bring about a renewed confidence at the plate.
Still, he knows the strength of this team is pitching.
The Rebels are second in the SEC with a 3.51 ERA, but by moving Cody Satterwhite to Sunday, he feels the rotation will be even stronger.
Although tonight's starter Lance Lynn and Satterwhite are different, their approach is similar. By moving Drew Pomeranz to Saturday, Bianco feels opponents won't get accustomed to the same approach in back-to-back days.
“They're big right handers, and they throw a lot of fastballs and throw hard,” Bianco said. “That gives guys 10 consecutive bats against the same approach.”
The move was made last weekend against Alabama, and Bianco felt it worked. And he feels it gives Ole Miss its best chance against Vandy, which is batting .305 even without All-SEC standout Pedro Alvarez, who is sidelined indefinitely with a hand injury.