For most appearances in his Ole Miss career, Scott Bittle has been all about the finish.
This weekend that changes. On Sunday, in Game 3 of the 11th-ranked Rebels’ series at No. 2 LSU, it will be about the start.
Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco, the former LSU catcher, hopes his All-American closer is the answer to the problems of inconsistency that have plagued the weekend rotation since the outset of the season.
Game times at the new Alex Box Stadium are 7 tonight, 3 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday. Projected inclement weather today could force a doubleheader on Saturday or Sunday.
Ole Miss (15-6, 4-2 SEC) will start sophomore left-hander Drew Pomeranz tonight and junior right-hander Phillip Irwin Saturday.
LSU (19-4, 4-2 SEC) enters the series sporting a .317 team batting average and a 3.50 earned run average.
“They’ve got great numbers. They’re a team that does everything well,” Bianco said.
As a reliever Bittle, a 6-foot-2 senior from Texarkana, Texas, would normally get some work in non-conference games during the week. The starter’s routine is different. His only action prior to the weekend was a bullpen session at Thursday’s practice.
Some things change going from closer to starter. Bianco doesn’t want much to change.
“The challenge is to pitch the same way. You get into trouble when you try to do different things,” he said.
Bittle struggled in his last outing, walking six of the 10 batters he faced and unable to get out of the ninth inning against Alabama.
He has 11 walks in 102/3 innings for the season, numbers that don’t tell the story of his control, Bianco says, because several of the walks were intentional.
Bittle doesn’t believe he’s pitched enough to get a feel for his performance level.
“I went through some times like this last year, but they weren’t as noticeable, because I had a lot more innings under me,” he said.
Bittle was 7-1 last year with eight saves and a 1.78 earned run average in 702/3 innings. He is best known for his out pitch, a sinking cut fastball, that helped him amass 130 strikeouts.
This season he has 19 strikeouts.
Bittle is the third pitcher to fill this spot in the rotation, following junior college transfer Aaron Barrett and senior Brett Bukvich.
Bittle has started three times in his 63 appearances at Ole Miss, not once since a solid seven-inning effort against Vanderbilt in the SEC Tournament semifinals in 2007. Last season, however, he pitched a career-long 71/3 innings in a win at Kentucky that propelled the Rebels into the league tournament and ultimately an NCAA regional.
“We’re starting him not because we think he can go nine innings, but because we need a jump start,’ Bianco said. “We need somebody to give us a good start.”
– Tonight: Ole Miss LHP Drew Pomeranz (1-0, 3.44) vs. LSU RHP Anthony Ranaudo (2-1, 2.01)
– Saturday: Ole Miss RHP Phillip Irwin (4-0, 1.82) vs. LSU RHP Louis Coleman (5-1, 1.21)
– Sunday: Ole Miss RHP Scott Bittle (1-2, 5.06) vs. LSU RHP Austin Ross (3-2, 2.86)
Parrish Alford/Daily Journal