By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – R.J. Hively knows where he stands, and that status doesn’t make him uncomfortable.
Once upon a time it might have.
After a career that he describes as both humbling and rewarding, a California kid is a long way from home and now, as a fifth-year senior, is making the most of his final collegiate season.
Nine games into the 30-game SEC schedule, Hively, a master of two pitches while working on a third, is No. 3 in the league in earned run average at 1.71.
Going into the Saturday Florida game, his regularly scheduled start, Hively had allowed only one earned run over a span of 27 innings.
He knew things were going well, but he wasn’t keeping up with the numbers.
“Honestly no. I knew it had been a while, but I didn’t realize it was that,” he said.
Ole Miss won twice against the No. 1-ranked Gators, and Hively had the Rebels positioned for a win on Saturday. He went 51⁄3 innings, allowing only two runs, both earned. He scattered eight hits, walked two and the Rebels led 3-2 at the time of his departure.
As No. 10 Ole Miss visits Kentucky this weekend – the Wildcats are ranked No. 1 by Collegiate Baseball, No. 6 by Baseball America – Hively will face another talented offense. Kentucky leads the league with a .325 team batting average.
Hively has gotten off to a fast start this season with control that eluded him in 2011 when he was slowed by tendinitis in his first season after transferring from Santa Ana College, two years removed from Cal-State Fullerton where he had visions of stardom.
“The biggest thing is he’s just been attacking the strike zone,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said. “And with that slider he’s got, he can be devastating out there.”
Pitching coach Carl Lafferty says Hively has benefitted from his ability to “repeat his deliveries” this season.
“He commands the slider … that’s his out pitch, and he commands the fastball much better this season,” Lafferty said.
Hively has pitched 42 innings, and his eight walks are the fewest among the Rebels’ weekend rotation. Last season Hively walked seven batters in 18.1 innings.
He knows he must have control to make his slider effective. The change-up is a work in progress but remains a “distant third pitch” right now.
“Being mainly a 2-pitch pitcher, fastball, slider, when you fall behind they can sit on one. You might be able to fool them once, maybe, in a 2-0 count and throw a slider in there, but you’re going to have to throw a fastball, and they can sit on it,” Hively said.
Off the bench
Last year it was Hively who did a lot of sitting, and it wasn’t easy to take. After a productive fall in 2010, he was high up on Bianco’s list of options early on, but he felt pain in his arm against Wright State on opening weekend when he couldn’t get finish an inning, allowing three runs on four hits while recording just one out.
Thus began a season of frustration where Hively rarely felt fit. It was far from how he envisioned his college career when he signed with Fullerton, the home-town national power.
“I blew a great opportunity. I was young and immature and didn’t take things as seriously as I probably should have. I was probably a little too cocky for myself coming in, saying, ‘I’m at a great program, I’ll be here for two years, I’ll go into the draft.’ Once that’s taken away from you, it really puts things into perspective,” he said.
Hively was redshirted and didn’t like where he saw his Fullerton future headed. He spent a year at Santa Ana and was drafted by the Yankees in the 26th round in 2010 but opted for Ole Miss.
“He’s a well-traveled kid,” Lafferty said. “Individually he didn’t have the year he wanted last season, but it helped him grow, and it’s given him perspective.”
Following his junior season, Hively didn’t pitch in summer ball but remained in Oxford and worked to get healthy. He again had a productive fall, and this time he’s followed it with a productive spring, motivated by attention placed on teammate Bobby Wahl, the Rebels’ Friday night starter.
“Coming in we knew that Bobby Wahl was our guy, and that’s what I wanted to shoot for. I wanted to be just like him if not better in my own personal way. Through that, it helps make the team better, because once you have guys trying to shoot for being as good as he is, it makes us better,” Hively said.
Making the team better through control on the mound and consistency away from it has been a big focus for Hively, who tries to counsel younger players on the team as well.
“This game will humble you very quickly. As long as you can stick with the process of make this quality pitch here and try to win this pitch, it really keeps everything simple and in perspective for you.”