The Rebels are coming off a huge SEC opening weekend series win over then-No. 24 Vanderbilt but will now turn their attention to avenging a midweek loss from February. Despite the No. 14 Rebels (14-6, 2-1) cellar-dwelling .249 team average, Mike Bianco’s club outlasted a talented Commodore bunch with more stellar pitching (2.73 team ERA). Now, Ole Miss will head north to AutoZone Park to take on Memphis (12-7).
The Tigers outlasted the Rebs earlier this year in a 9-6 win and will be trying to do the same this week after taking two-of-three against Missouri State over the weekend. The Tigers aren’t exactly tearing the cover off the ball either (.245 team average) and their pitching isn’t too far behind (opponents hitting .272).
Senior first baseman Andy Bowman leads Darren Schoenrock’s club at the plate with a .333 average, 11 RBI’s and is slugging .519 through 17 games. Freshman infielder Alec Trela leads the Tigers with 21 hits and three home runs. I fully expect Memphis to come out and play hard like their hair is on fire, per usual. This is yet another chance for them to improve their RPI and beat a local SEC team. The Rebs typically have trouble with the U of M and they would definitely like to keep the winning ways going.
2 big questions
1. Should Mike Bianco give Cooper Johnson a few games off?
You would think that this would be energy-related and/or a break from squatting down for four hours behind the plate three games straight. But, this is more related to his performance at the plate. Now, granted Johnson was recruited to be the next Stuart Turner behind the plate and eventually develop his bat over time, but his offense has been really dragging (.139 average) so far this young season. And with conference play getting cranked up, you need him 100 percent there, mentally and physically.
The positive thing is that his at-bats have really been improving. He is working deep into counts, putting better swings on pitches and has looked a little more patient. But despite Coop’s defense being a real weapon, Ole Miss does have the luxury of giving him a week off and playing former high school All-American and No. 12 catcher in the country Nick Fortes, who is hitting .263 right now. The hits are going to come for Coop, but for now, it may not be the worst idea to give him a chance to clear his mind and take a sabbatical.
2. Should Will Ethridge stay in the weekend rotation?
Godzilla made his debut this past Sunday against an experienced Vanderbilt club that hits it well and will challenge you every pitch and work you deep into counts. The numbers weren’t pretty (3.1 IP, 6 hits, 5 earned runs and 5 strikeouts) but the stuff at times was. Ethridge had some swing and miss stuff all game and made some veteran hitters look silly.
The weekend debut wasn’t a win in the box score, but I think Will has found a spot that he can thrive in. His four-seam fastball was electric, touching 95 at times, his two-seamer had a ton of life and sink to it and he was aggressive early in counts multiple times throwing a first pitch slider. Sundays are usually days where teams break out the bats and the scores are much higher than normal. Ethridge has the arsenal and durability to be a game changer in series finales before eventually moving on to a Friday or Saturday spot in the future.
How to listen
First pitch: 6:30 p.m. CT
Online streaming: none
Radio: Ole Miss Radio Network (station listings here)
Online radio: OleMissSports.com
Ole Miss: RHP Sean Johnson (0-0, 0.00 ERA)
Memphis: RHP Jonathan Bowlan (2-2, 6.10 ERA)