By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
HOOVER, Ala. – Going with his best pitcher on short rest was easily the best decision, Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said.
So Bobby Wahl (6-2, 2,20 ERA) will start for the ninth-seeded Rebels against fourth-seeded Kentucky this morning at 9:30 in the first game of the revamped SEC baseball tournament at Regions Park.
Player management always presents a bit of intrigue for postseason as starting pitchers spend four months in a very structured environment which usually means seven days rest between appearances.
This time it five days for Wahl, who gave up three runs, two earned, in 7.1 innings of three-hit ball in the Rebels’ 3-0 loss at Vanderbilt last Thursday.
“I talked to Bobby, Saturday night on the bus, and he said he felt great. He did his short work yesterday and said he feels how he normally feels,” Bianco said. “With us in our situation, finishing the season the way we did and having your ace feel 100 percent, to not run him out there would not be a good thing.”
The Ole Miss situation is one of uncertainty as it relates to reaching the NCAA tournament. Bids are announced Monday.
After sweeping Tennessee on May 11-13, the Rebels (34-22) have lost their last four games, one at Arkansas State and three at Vanderbilt. With a 14-16 SEC mark and a 6-6 record against teams ranked in the RPI top 17, they may have done enough to earn a bid. Success in the SEC tournament could take away the anxiousness on Monday.
“I think everybody feels that way. When you look at our league, it’s so close. There are the top four teams, but from five on down, you look at just a game or two dividing everybody else,” Bianco said. “The last five or six teams RPI-wise are within 10 points of each other. We’re not the only ones.”
Kentucky (41-15, 18-12) will not throw its ace or one of its weekend starters. Wildcats coach Gary Henderson announced that freshman left-hander A.J. Reed (4-2, 3.00) will get the start. Reed gave up a run and three hits in 2.1 innings when Ole Miss defeated Kentucky 9-3 on April 7, the second game of the Lexington series.
Reed will be making his fifth start.
Wahl struggled with arm soreness when he lasted just 4 innings in a no-decision in the series opener at Kentucky. The Rebels lost by a run, touching home just twice while collecting 13 hits. Three Ole Miss baserunners were thrown out at the plate.
Wahl has gone at least seven innings in his last three starts. He hasn’t given up more than two earned runs in a game since March 23 at Alabama.
“The biggest thing is I’ve been throwing more strikes,” he said. “I’ve been doing all my extra stuff with Tony Barnett, our trainer, to strengthen my shoulder and arm. That allows me to go deeper into games.”