By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – The absence of Drew Pomeranz has barely been felt in the non-conference season, but that could change this evening as SEC play begins.
“I think we’ll find out more about how good we are on the mound this weekend against Alabama,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said.
So far the Rebels (14-4) have been really good with their starters, especially junior left-hander Matt Crouse, who will get the call tonight.
First pitch is at 6:30 p.m., at Swayze Field. The series continues Saturday at 2 p.m. and Sunday at 1:30.
The Rebels’ 2.71 earned run average is third in the SEC. The three weekend starters each carry an ERA of less than the team average, led by Crouse, who is 4-0 with a 1.67 ERA.
“He’s been terrific. A lot of them have pitched well, but he’s shined maybe a little more than everybody else in the sense that he’s made it look a lot easier. A lot of what we’ve done over the last four games, he’s done four games in a row himself,” Bianco said.
What the Rebels have done over the last four games is allow just one run through 36 innings.
Ole Miss has won four straight, and the pitching his deflected attention from an offense that has struggled to produce runs. With 98 runs, Ole Miss is 10th in the SEC, one of three teams yet to reach 100.
Alabama will oppose Crouse with senior right-hander Nathan Kilcrease, who beat the Rebels twice last May, once in Tuscaloosa, once at the SEC tournament in Hoover. In both games Kilcrease, a crafty off-speed thrower, combined for 171⁄3 innings and six earned runs.
Bianco had high praise for his pitching staff before the season started even though it was missing Pomeranz, last year’s SEC Pitcher of the Year and the No. 5 pick in the MLB draft.
Crouse has ascended to the role of Friday night starter without challenge.
He was 5-1 with one save and a 3.74 ERA last year, his first at Ole Miss after transferring from Young Harris (junior) College.
This season Crouse has greater command of his breaking pitches and is throwing them in the strike zone with more confidence.
“I think our whole staff has been working with confidence all year long. We’ve been pretty consistent all year. We’ll definitely be confident going into this weekend,” he said.
Crouse attributes part of his success to a more clearly defined role.
“I’ve been a lot more comfortable this year starting as opposed to starting in mid-week then having to come out of the pen on the weekends. Settling into a role has helped a lot,” he said.
Alabama (11-6) has struggled on offense too. The Crimson Tide scored just once Tuesday in a 2-1 loss to Auburn in Montgomery, a game that does not count in the SEC standings.
Alabama is 11th in the SEC in hitting at .283 but tied for seventh in runs scored with 106.
Crouse embraces his new role, the one held by Pomeranz a year ago, but tries to keep things in perspective.
“It’s exciting, but I try to look at Friday night as just another SEC game. It doesn’t matter if it’s Friday or Wednesday or Tuesday,” he said.
Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600 or firstname.lastname@example.org.