Ole Miss is losing its two most reliable veteran hitters during a time when its young, freshmen-heavy lineup is struggling through a serious slump. The All-SEC second-team duo of Tate Blackman and Colby Bortles have been “suspended until further notice for not meeting the standards of the Ole Miss baseball program,” head coach Mike Bianco announced in a statement minutes before the Rebels’ Tuesday night game against Georgia State.
Bianco said he hasn’t decided how long the suspensions will last and that the coaching staff “will discuss it every day with them,” according to Davis Potter of the Oxford Eagle.
Blackman was replaced at second base by freshman Bryce Blaum, who had a solid night in the field and went 1-for-2 with a walk at the plate. Bortles’ absence at third caused a chain reaction: Ryan Olenek moved to third and was replaced in center by Kyle Watson, who scored the game’s only run with a second-inning solo shot. Thomas Dillard started in left field and Michael Fitzsimmons was inserted as the DH.
After slow starts to their respective seasons, Blackman and Bortles have emerged as steadying forces over the past two weeks. Blackman is second on the club with a .316 batting average while Bortles leads the team in homers, RBI and slugging percentage.
Without them in the lineup on Tuesday night, Ole Miss mustered just three hits while squeaking out a 1-0 win over Georgia State, the fourth straight game in which the Rebels have scored three or fewer runs. After averaging 10.4 hits and 7.6 runs in each of its first eight games, Ole Miss has averaged 4.5 hits and 1.3 runs in each of its last four—a stretch that includes last weekend’s 0-3 showing at the Shriners College Classic in Houston.
That slump has a lot to do with the struggles of the freshmen, who have expectedly cooled off after their blazing hot starts. The four regular freshmen starters—Dillard, Grae Kessinger, Cooper Johnson and Cole Zabowski—have combined to go just 4-for-44 over the last four games. The youngsters carried the team while Blackman and Bortles tried to find their grooves in the early going, but you knew that trend would eventually reverse itself. It’s now Blackman and Bortles’ turn to stabilize the lineup—the problem is that they’re not in it.