OXFORD – Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco will have at least one new starter in his weekend pitching rotation. He hopes not two new starters.
Senior left-hander Brett Bukvich will replace right-hander Phillip Irwin in the Saturday slot with Mississippi State on the schedule this weekend.
The bigger question remains the Sunday SEC slot, in which the Rebels have been so successful since former closer Scott Bittle joined the rotation.
Bittle was scheduled to start Sunday at Auburn but was scratched close to game time because of soreness in his bicep.
“He had pain in his bicep and just did not feel good,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said on Monday. “He saw the trainer this morning and felt better today.”
The Rebels (36-13, 16-8 SEC) are ranked No. 7 by Baseball America and are tied with Florida and LSU for the SEC overall lead.
With final exams under way players were off on Monday and are off again today. Bittle will participate in long toss Wednesday and will have his regularly scheduled bullpen session on Thursday.
“It’s too early to tell right now. He’ll get out Wednesday and play some catch, and we’ll see where he is then,” Bianco said. “From what we hear and understand we don’t think it’s anything serious.”
Bittle was drafted in the second round by the Yankees last June. Talks stalled over the Yankees’ interpretation of an MRI on his shoulder.
Bittle’s name was on the lineup card submitted at Auburn, so though he didn’t throw a pitch the game counts toward his start total statistically.
He’s 5-2 with three saves and a 2.17 earned run average in 452⁄3 innings. He has 68 strikeouts, 22 walks and opponents are hitting .175 against him.
Change on Saturday
Irwin was one of the Rebels’ more consistent starters earlier, but his ERA has risen steadily. He did not get out of the third inning Saturday at Auburn, a game Ole Miss eventually won 8-2.
The Tigers had 13 hits, seven of them against Irwin, who lasted 21⁄3 innings.
Bukvich was solid on short notice Sunday, giving up eight hits and three runs over five innings.
Bukvich got the ball against Alabama on March 22 – the last time Bianco shuffled the rotation – but gave up six hits and seven earned runs in two-thirds of an inning.
He recovered and has pitched well in mid-week games, including an 8-1 Ole Miss win against MSU in the Governor’s Cup game.
He’s 8-1 with a 3.63 ERA over 52 innings this season.
Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal