As the No. 8 Rebels welcome Rhode Island today at 4 p.m. for the first of three games, junior jack-of-all-trades Preston Overbey will likely make his second start at the position that All-American Alex Yarbrough had locked down for three years.
As the season opener approached it appeared that senior John Gatlin, a former Tupelo standout and two-time all-state selection at Itawamba Community College, had a strong chance to win the job.
Gatlin suffered a dislocated shoulder a couple of weeks before the Feb. 15 opener against TCU.
Junior college transfer Lance Wilson started all three games against the Horned Frogs, but Bianco is looking for more offense.
“Preston’s got to get in the lineup. We’ve got to try to get him at-bats,” Bianco said.
Gatlin took ground balls on Tuesday for the first time since the injury.
“My range was a little limited, but there was no pain,” Gatlin said.
There is still no timetable set for his return, though Bianco has said it could possibly be early March.
Like Overbey, Gatlin’s bat is an asset at second base. There are other similarities too.
Both are right-handed hitters. Both hit .255 last year, though Overbey had more opportunities with 145 at-bats to Gatlin’s 47. Overbey had seven doubles and 12 RBIs, Gatlin four doubles and eight RBIs.
Overbey has played third base, first base, outfield and catcher during his career.
The second base experiment is a new idea, so new that Bianco had not gone over bunt defense with Overbey before he started Wednesday against Tennessee-Martin.
Overbey made several defensive plays, including helping turn a 6-4-3 double play, and went 2-for-5 with a double, two RBIs and four runs scored.
“Knowing they were going to start a left-hander we said, ‘Why not?’ If we’re going to try it at some point, why wait a week? Let’s try it now,” Bianco said.
Gatlin is pleased with the progress he’s made in his rehab and says his return will be based on how “my body reacts to all the physical therapy.”
He sustained the injury during a practice while diving into the hole to make a play.
“There was a ball hit up the middle to my back-hand side. I dove after it, full-extension, and when I landed, my shoulder actually popped out forward and down,” he said.
It took an emergency room visit to get the shoulder back in place. It’s the first major injury of Gatlin’s career at any level.
He and Bianco have discussed a medical redshirt for this season. It’s possible that Overbey’s progress could factor into that decision.
“We’ve basically decided that we’re not going to cross that bridge until we get there. I have time to decide,” Gatlin said. “I need to get my rehab done regardless. We’ll make that decision in a few weeks.”