This past weekend, Ole Miss baseball was only able to steal one win in Orlando against UCF. Despite a four-run lead on Friday and your standard outing from Christian Trent, the Rebels lost on a walk off, then dropped the first leg of a double header on Sunday.
What's the biggest reason for the struggles in the Sunshine State? Stranding runners in scoring position. The Rebs had runners all over the bases, but could never bring them in with the big hit. They ended up leaving 26 men on base, 18 of which were in scoring position. It was particularly bad with a runner in scoring position and less than one out: according to Chase Parham, they struck out five times and hit into a double play. This simply can't become a trend or the Ole Miss side of the scoreboard will stay dimly lit.
Let's take a look at three things that could help alleviate this issue from a baseball mechanics and strategy standpoint:
1. Look for "your pitch" early in the count
This is simply saying that the hitters need to look for a pitch that they are confident they can handle and do something constructive with. What do I mean by that? With a runner on third and less than two outs, you're not exactly expected to rip a dinger or bang the wall and get a standup double.
You can be just as effective by getting "your pitch" in a plus count (when the hitter is ahead in the count aka more balls than strikes) and hit a ground ball to the right side of the infield forcing the defense to get the out at first and bringing the runner from third in for a run. Or let's say you get a fastball that is a little bit up and out of the strike zone. Perfect. This is something that you also might be looking for that can be easily lifted to the outfield for a sacrifice fly.
2. Be aggressive and patient at the same time
How can this be done, Zach, this is a contradiction, you idiot! Well, each part of the plan plays a part that compliments the other. As I mentioned above, look for something you can handle early in the count and be aggressive. A pitch that you can handle or is "your pitch" is more likely to positively impact the at bat and score that runner from third.
The second part of the plan is be patient. There were several times over the course of the weekend when Rebel hitters were chasing breaking balls early in the count and getting behind the proverbial 8-ball. The pitchers are being just as aggressive as the hitters, trying to keep them guessing and on their heels. So if patience is meshed with aggression, the runner can be brought home successfully.
3. Protect the plate and shorten up
One bitter pill to swallow in baseball striking out looking with runners in scoring position and less than two outs. That just simply will not get it done, literally and figuratively. To combat a tough pitcher who is effectively moving the ball in and out of the zone and keeping the hitter on his heels can be defeated with two simple things: protect and shorten up. The pitchers aren't robots, they will make mistakes.
When down in the count with two strikes, the hitters must fight off anything close and shorten up their swing to just look to make hard contact. By shortening up, I simply mean the hitter should not be taking a healthy cut trying to get a beverage shower going in right field, but merely try to put the ball in play, force the defense to make a play and score a run. Lazy pop ups and strikeouts will doom the Rebels and spoil great pitching performances from Trent, Brady Bramlett and Sam Smith.
The season is still very, very young and new hitting coach Mike Clement is already doing an impressive job with a lot of youngsters who have not played at this level before. There is plenty of talent top to bottom of the Rebel lineup and things will start to click the more quality at-bats they get.
The Diamondbear bats look to get heated up on Wednesday as Ole Miss travels to Hattiesburg to take on the Mustard Buzzards of Southern Mississippi at 6 p.m. CT.