Ole Miss' hot start has gone frigid after consecutive SEC series losses, but the month of April brings opportunity. The Rebs get four straight SEC series at home against three struggling clubs from the West: Arkansas is sitting at 19-9 (4-5), Alabama is 16-11 (5-4), Auburn is 13-15 (2-7) and the shocker of the year, LSU is 18-9 (4-5). Two of those three have better conference records than Ole Miss, but getting these series at home could really help swing some momentum.
Up first, however, is a Wednesday night trip to Pearl to take on a quality Southern Miss club. Their RPI is all the way up to No. 13 thanks to wins over Bama (No. 55 RPI) and Michigan State (No. 33 RPI). They hit .324 as a squad, led by Nick Dawson (.398, 10 doubles), Tim Lynch (.393, six homers) and Jake Sandlin (.381, 17 RBI). Yeah, they can swing it. Also, the Golden Eagles have hit 39 (!) homers this year. Yes, thirty-nine. That's good for third in the nation. Needless to say, this will be a tough test for Big Tex.
The Eagles always play the Rebs tough in the midweek and a loss here could cripple any momentum salvaged on Sunday in Starkville. This game could be huge moving forward into the weekend against the Razorbacks.
If you're hoping to actually watch it, you'll need to show up at Trustmark Park. There are no TV or online streaming options available, so you're best bet is to listen in with TuneIn (see the bottom of this post for details).
3 big questions for the midweek
1. Can Mike Bianco decide on a DH please?
Over the weekend Mike Bianco made it a point to play Michael Fitzsimmons more. Fitzy got the start at DH in all three games (though he was pulled early in Game 3), going 2-for-8 against two legit SEC starters. Granted he only hit .250 for the weekend, but that's to be expected against guys like the soon-to-be-drafted Dakota Hudson and Austin Sexton. But, Bianco needs to really make a commitment to playing Fitzsimmons.
As we have mentioned before, he's not going to get cheated on swings and if he makes contact, he's gonna hit it hard somewhere. He leads the team with a .410 batting average and has two homers and eight RBI to go along with it. With some added ABs as the season progresses, he could be a force at the bottom of the lineup for the Rebs.
2. Will Sean Johnson or Chad Smith eventually move to the midweek?
The Southeastern Conference baptism for the two weekend starters has been more by fire than by cleansing. The two are a combined 0-2 record with a miserable 6.47 ERA through nine games. Both are coming off off-season injuries and still don't look comfortable on the bump. Smith only lasted 1.1 innings on Saturday and Johnson only made it to through 3.0.
James McArthur will take the mound for the Rebs tonight, but Bianco could consider moving Smith or Johnson into that role. The midweek could start the healing process for those two while allowing the Rebs to test some new blood on the weekends. The midweek doesn't boast the toughest of competition and it could be just what they need to build up confidence. Hell, you could even throw them both on a Tuesday or Wednesday night. You gotta try something because it ain't working on the weekend.
3. Is it time to sit Errol Robinson?
We're over 30 games into the season and the preseason All-American is dead last among Ole Miss' every day players in batting average (.208). For a guy who has hit just under .300 his first two years on campus, this is becoming a legit concern. His on-base percentage is atrocious (.292) and his slugging percentage is even worse (.283).
What concerns me even more is that it seems to be beginning to affect his play in the field. His fielding percentage has dipped to .965 thanks to four errors and he doesn't look comfortable even when he does make the play. It might serve Bianco well to give Errol a day or two off just to clear the mechanism, if you will. After all, baseball is a game that is all about being mentally tough.
First pitch: Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. CT at Trustmark Park in Pearl, Miss.
Online streaming: nope
Online radio: TuneIn - Ole Miss IMG Sports Network
Ole Miss: RHP James McArthur (3-0, 5.48 ERA, 21.1 IP, 22K, 4 BB)
USM: RHP Mason Walley (1-1, 4.32 ERA, 8.1 IP, 7K, 7 BB)