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Ranting in Right Field: Should Ryan Rolison pitch on Friday or no? We discuss

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Ryan Rolison is the ace, without question. But should he automatically pitch on Friday?

Josh McCoy-Ole Miss Athletics

D1Baseball released their top 100 prospects for the 2018 MLB Draft and Ole Miss got some great and not-so great news all at once. True sophomore pitcher and Freshman All-American Ryan Rolison made the list.

Hooray!

But, he made the list at No. 2, just behind Florida’s Brady Singer.

No!

All kidding aside, it is certainly a shame that Rolison will more than likely only don the Power Blue threads for one more season because due to being draft eligible, he will almost definitely declare for the draft after this season. The hype behind Rolo got cranked up after a ridiculously-impressive showing at the Cape Cod League last summer, once again showcasing he is an elite Southpaw with multiple pitches who can run it up there in the high-90’s.

So now, it seems like quite the easy choice for head coach Mike Bianco: start Rolison on Friday. Or could he do what other SEC head coaches have done and mix things up by going with your ace on Saturday or Sunday?

“You pitch your best on Friday. No way around it.” - Nicholas

There is no reason to reinvent the wheel. The Los Angeles Dodgers don’t save Clayton Kershaw for game two of a series if they don't have to, and neither should Mike Bianco. With an offense that struggled in 2017 and lost their top two power hitters, you don’t mess with their minds. Starting off the weekend with a loss could be devastating and cause the team to play tight. The last thing this team needs is a 3-0 Friday loss with the entire weekend resting on the Rebels giving Rolison and the Sunday starter enough run support to backend a series.

LSU is the most recent test case of this as they started Jared Poché over Alex Lange in 2015 and 2016 before flipping in 2017. It made sense in 2015 as the talented first round pick Lange was only a freshman. In 2016 both players had similar numbers, but in 2017 Paul Mainieri realized how much he needed a true ace to start off the weekend and gave Lange his spot at the top.

Lange had his best season, striking out 150 players in 124 innings before getting drafted by the Chicago Cubs. With Lange on Friday in 2017 the Tigers went to the College World Series championship series. That’s no accident.

Poché was straight off a Freshman All-American campaign when he started on Friday nights in 2015. Sound familiar? Rolison struck out 43 batters in just 35 innings while allowing a WHIP of just under 0.8 in the Cape Cod League last summer. He is a draft-eligible sophomore and his only chance to pitch on Friday nights in the SEC may come this season.

Not all teams are blessed with a true ace, heck even the Rebs lacked one last year. That team went 4-6 in game one of SEC weekends. Winning on Friday is what good teams do. If Ole Miss wants to hold Rolison to backend the series they are going to face similar struggles on Friday.

What happens when Rolison is on but the Rebels drop a 2-1 Saturday game and are staring down the barrel of a weekend sweep? Good teams with deep staffs lay it all out out there and that starts by challenging their best against your best, not shying away from it.

Bianco likes to play things by the book. When a runner reaches first with nobody out, he bunts him over to second. When he has a top of the rotation All-American ace, he starts him on Friday night. Nothing wrong with keeping it simple, stupid.

“Let him play a role in seizing momentum and pitch him in game two or three.” - Zach

Excellent points, Nick. Very well done.

But, hear me out for just a few.

College baseball is a game of runs, literally and figuratively. It’s also a sport of momentum. And this is a big-time opportunity for Ole Miss to throw their ace on Saturday or Sunday in order to backdoor a series win and carry on momentum from that weekend to the next. And then the next. And the next.

Barring an exception, Friday starters are usually experienced and well-seasoned who have seen conference opponents and non-conference lineups that are top-to-bottom impressive. This could be a spot for James McArthur or Brady Feigl. Tex has 24 career starts and Torch started six games last season in a starting role for Bianco.

Before you flip out and scream “Zach, you’re insane”, just listen. Several other top college managers have done the same thing.

You’ve already discussed the Poché and Lange experiment at LSU. Paul Maineri was scorned for sticking with the lefty Jared on Friday and not throwing his first round pick, Lange, in game one for two years. It seems that the Tigers’ head man chose experience over talent in order to not only go deep into games in game one, but to have someone who could handle the stage of a Friday night game.

Sound familiar?

Then, up north a bit, Louisville head coach Dan McDonnell did the same thing with No. 4 overall pick Brendan McKay in 2016. The former consensus national player of the year took the bump on Saturday’s for the Cardinals despite being the more talented hurler over another first round pick, Kyle Funkhouser. Even though McKay was obviously the better talent, McDonnell once again chose experience over skill.

Sure you have the luxury of having two very, very good pitchers in both these examples, but you throw one on Friday and hope for the best, but win or lose, you still have your bell cow throwing on Saturday to either win a series or even it up with a chance to win it on Sunday.

Lastly, this scenario might be familiar because Mike Bianco has actually done something similar once before. In 2009, Ole Miss had a clear-cut Friday night guy in Drew Pomeranz. Then, they had their choice of Nathan Baker, Brett Bukvich, and Phillip Irwin for Saturday and Sunday.

Pom was no doubt getting the pill on Friday, but once Sunday was in question, Bianco turned to ace reliever, Scott Bittle. “The Thing” was on full display in series finales and Bianco without a doubt chose to do this in order to secure series wins or salvage a game. When he was at full strength, one could possible argue that he was just as dominant as Pomeranz, or more.

Coming off a year when he struck 130(!) in only 70.2(!) inning pitched, Bittle left the bullpen to start in finales and ended up going 5-2 with a 2.17 ERA, striking out 68 in 45.2 innings (13.40 K/9 innings wtf that’s absurd), and I guess you could say a decent WHIP of 1.09, that’s good, right?

Now, it’s not the same argument as starting Rolison on Friday or not, but Bianco chose to keep Bittle free for game three instead of throwing him Friday or Saturday because he knew how talented he was and that he could count on him to get him a W when he needed it most.

But, with Ole Miss hitting below .260 as a team in 2017, do you really want to waste your ace in a 2-1 loss on Friday night?


If I was a betting man, I would say pencil Rolo in on your box scores for Fridays, no doubt. Bianco is old fashioned and Rolison proved his worth in spots last year and at the Cape this past summer. And I don’t blame Mike for throwing him on Friday, he is a top five prospect and is the most talented arm on the staff. He has a premium arsenal and had gotten his fastball up to 95 over the summer.

So there’s no shame in throwing him on Friday or Saturday or even Sunday. But, with Ole Miss’ offense being so inconsistent and downright mediocre, throwing him NOT on Friday wouldn’t be so bad either.

Guess we’ll find out on February 16th when the Diamondsharks take on Winthrop at The Sway.