COLUMN: Fans in attendance of Saturday’s 7-0 win for the current Rebel squad over the alumni team got a glimpse at what the backbone of Ole Miss’ pitching staff will likely resemble when the season opens on Feb. 18 against Wright State.
Against the professional Rebel squad — which, admittedly, for the most part had not faced live pitching in over four months — Ole Miss’ three likely weekend starters and closer allowed just two hits during nine innings of work.Rusty or not, Saturday’s game provided a good boost of confidence for a staff that has questions surrounding it as to what roles players will fill.
“I was really proud of the way the guys pitched in what was kind of a dress rehearsal. (Matt) Crouse is special right now and (David) Goforth’s new cutter really moved. Austin (Wright) was solid, and it looked like the old Jake Morgan out there,” Ole Miss pitching coach Carl Lafferty said. “Facing that lineup can be intimidating, but there aren’t many negatives to their day.”
Crouse started for the current squad and pitched 3.0 scoreless innings, surrendering one hit (that could have been ruled an error) while striking out five.
“He’s pitching, he’s competing and he’s understanding what is necessary to get people out,” Lafferty said. “He’s really grown since last season. He’s put on weight and worked hard.”
Crouse, the front-runner to replace fellow lefty Drew Pomeranz as Ole Miss’ next Friday night starter, was just glad to face somebody new on Saturday.
“It’s just nice to get out here and face different guys, especially those guys because of how good they are. It’s definitely a confidence boost,” Crouse said. “I just wanted to see how we stacked up. We’ve been facing our guys for the past six months, so it was nice to get some different guys in there and see how I look.”
Crouse added that his he’s happy where he’s at with the season opener two weeks away.
“Everything is going good,” he said. “All three pitches I’m throwing where I want to and I’ve been able to get guys out.”
Goforth and Wright each had solid outings in 2.1 and 2.2 respective innings of work. Goforth allowed one hit and struck out two while Wright allowed one walk and struck out three.
Morgan closed out the game with a scoreless ninth, striking out one.
The Rebels scored all of their runs in what turned out to be a difficult inning for former Rebel Brett Bukvich. The current squad scored seven runs on four hits, four walks and one hit-by-pitch in 0.2 innings of work for Bukvich.
Ole Miss treated Saturday as a dry run for the season and as such, it’s starting lineup was: Taylor Hightower at catcher, Miles Hamblin at first base, Alex Yarbrough at second base, Preston Overbey at third base, Jordan King in left field, Tanner Mathis in center, Matt Smith in right field and Zach Kirksey at designated hitter.
During the game, Hamblin was moved to catcher, Kirksey was moved to left field, Smith moved to first, King moved to right field and Will Allen was placed in the designated hitter’s spot.
With the exception of one ball that got past Overbey, the current Rebels had a clean game.
Matt Snyder, still recovering from his left shoulder injury, was held out of the lineup but is expected to be better by the season opener.
Doing some work
The current Rebels weren’t the only ones that were hoping to get some work in on Saturday.
Florida Marlin Chris Coghlan is coming back from an injury and is expected to move from left to center field, where he started for the pros.
“I hadn’t played since I was injured, so it was a lot of fun,” Coghlan said. “It’s been about six months since I even put baseball pants on.”
Added Coghlan later: “I look forward to the challenge of playing center. I’ve never done it before, never did left field before (being called up by the Marlins) either.”
Coghlan admitted his time away from baseball has been difficult at times, but he’s excited to get back on the field — he even dove for a ball hit to right-center.
“Anytime you have surgery and you’ve been out six months, doubt will creep in like am I going to be back to what I was and when is it going to be healthy? It’s a lot of hard work, rehab five days a week for six months and I was on crutches for six weeks,” he said. “It’s humbling, very humbling, and you realize shame on me when you take it for granted that you get to come out here and play. That’s why today was so much fun for me, being able to go out and compete.
“It wasn’t about what we did, for me it was just about getting back out on the field.”
Former three-time All-American Stephen Head, looking to transition from a position player to a pitcher, was hoping to get some valuable work in against live hitters.
Head also started at first base, a position he hasn’t played a lot of recently since moving to the outfield.
“I told (Justin) Henry, they hit him a ground ball and I’d never look at the base, I’d just run right to it, step on it, turn around and catch. I ran over there, looked down and the base was 10 feet away from me,” Head joked. “I said, I must be a little rusty. He said, ‘I noticed it took you a little while to get over there to first.’
“Stuff like that during the game made it a blast.”
Despite the lopsided score, everyone seemed to have a good time and at the end of the day, that’s what Saturday was meant to be all about.
“It was awesome,” Head said. “If you could have been in the dugout — we had two hits and couldn’t do anything but everybody is laughing at everybody. We had a blast.” (February 7, 2011, Page 2B)