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What Sean Johnson's (likely) season-ending injury means for the Ole Miss pitching staff

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Brady Bramlett's rise (hopefully) gives the Rebs a solid Saturday replacement, but Sam Smith's struggles open up major question marks on Sunday.

Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Word broke last Friday that Sean Johnson, a 6'7, hard-throwing JUCO transfer who was supposed to be Ole Miss' starting Saturday pitcher, has a partially torn ligament in his elbow. He's scheduled to visit super surgeon James Andrews for a second opinion on March 4, but the likely outcome, per Chase Parham, is a season-ending Tommy John procedure.

So who steps in to fill the Saturday spot? After another brilliant outing this past weekend, the easy answer is sophomore Brady Bramlett, who tossed six shutout innings against Wright State on Saturday. After missing the entirety of last season with a torn labrum, Bramlett has 19 strikeouts and a 1.50 ERA through his first two 2015 starts.

But at the same time that Bramlett is stepping forward, longtime Sunday starter Sam Smith is stepping back. After making the Game 2 start on opening weekend, he was essentially demoted back to Game 3 in favor of Bramlett against Wright State. Supposedly still suffering from the effects of sports hernia surgery (or just straight up sucking), the Sunday Sizzle has fizzled in the fourth inning of both of those starts and has an 8.10 ERA.

Smith struggled to get deep into games last season and it doesn't look like anything's changed in 2015. If he has the same issue next weekend against UCF, it's probably time for Bianco to start looking at other options for Sundays.

So who fills in?

Evan Anderson showed promise as a freshman as the midweek starter, but he's looked shaky in two relief appearances this season, allowing seven hits and five runs in just 3.1 innings of work.

Maybe Bianco looks to the pen and taps either Scott Weathersby or Wyatt Short. The problem there is that Weathersby is probably too valuable on the back end as a stopper and we have no way of knowing if Short, who was exclusively a reliever as a freshman, is capable of putting up long innings as a starter.

Perhaps the answer is Jacob Waguespack, who worked five scoreless innings out of the pen against William & Mary. But his starting experience isn't much better than Short's: Wags made two midweek starts last season and neither went longer than four innings.

Ideally, Smith will find his groove and get back to the form that made him one of the SEC's more reliable Sunday starters through the early going of last year. But if he doesn't, the Rebs will need to find someone to take over the third rotation spot ... and find them in a hurry.