The No. 10 Ole Miss Rebels got back to their winning ways Wednesday night, trouncing Arkansas State, 15-3. The good guys have outscored opponents 25-4 in their two wins this year and are hitting .352 as a team through three games.
In New Orleans this weekend, they’ll face a team that’s been seeing the ball just as well. The 6-0 Tulane Green Wave is hitting at a .328 clip and slugging .556. They’ve mashed eight home runs and are coming off a 22-run showing against Lamar.
This is a crucial road series early in the year for a Mike Bianco club still trying figure out its pitching staff. Last weekend’s Friday night starter, Will Ethridge, is being held out because of a blister, pushing JUCO Zack Phillips to the top of the rotation. Houston Roth gets the ball on Saturday and the kid phenom, Gunnar Hoglund, will toe the rubber Sunday.
How to watch
Away from the comfort of Swayze and the SEC Network cameras, Ole Miss baseball will be harder to watch this weekend. Tulane will stream the series on its All-Access service, but you’ll need to pay for it. Buying a $6.95 24-hour pass would give you the Friday and Saturday games, or you could fork up $10.95 for the month.
If you’d rather just listen, Tune-In has your back.
- Friday: 6:30 p.m. CT
- Saturday: 1 p.m. CT
- Sunday: 1 p.m. CT
3 things to look for this weekend
Can Zack Phillips rebound on Saturday?
The JUCO transfer had his debut spoiled by a talented Wright State lineup last weekend. He allowed four earned runs on seven hits before being yanked in the third inning. His command just wasn’t there and he left a lot of fastballs up in the zone in plus counts. That just isn’t going to cut it against a Greenies team that’s hitting it as good as anyone in the country.
I expect Bianco and pitching coach Carl Lafferty to try and work hitters on both sides of the plate on Friday, going inside on both lefties and righties and being aggressive in two-strike scenarios. Phillips needs a confidence boost and you know he’s eager to get back on the bump and prove his worth. This is a big-time early opportunity for him to show that he belongs in the weekend rotation.
Is Cooper Johnson hitting his stride?
When the Mundelein, Ill. native signed with the Rebels back in 2016, the hype was very real. So real that Cincinnati Reds drafted him in the 28th round. But he’s struggled to live up to his potential in Oxford, hitting just .224 in his first two seasons and seemingly allowing his plate results to affect his defense behind the plate.
It’s only been two games (Thomas Dillard started at catcher on Wednesday), but Johnson has looked like a completely different player this season. Against Wright State, he hit .571 with a dinger, a double and three RBIs. He also had three assists behind the dish. Sure, it was just two games in February, but baseball is a mental game and confidence can take you far. The Rebels can go real far if Cooper continues to hit anywhere close to this.
How good can Gunnar Hoglund be as a freshman?
If Phillips isn’t able to bounce back, that puts even more importance on the development of Hoglund, who turned down the MLB and a $2 million signing bonus to play college ball. Scheduled to start last Sunday before rain washed the game away, Hoglund made a delayed debut against Arkansas State on Wednesday.
It didn’t start well: three hits and a hit-by-pitch had two runs on the board before Hoglund had even recorded an out. But credit the youngster for settling down and fanning three straight batters to minimize the damage. He would only throw one more inning (final state line: four hits, three runs, three Ks), so he should be fresh for Sunday.
Hoglund is as talented as they come on the mound, sports a legit four-pitch arsenal and will only get better as the season goes on. How quickly that development happens could be the key to the Rebels’ pitching staff in 2019.