After losing the entire weekend rotation, the 2019 baseball season was always going to be an adventure early on. Will Ethridge, an experienced reliever from 2018, was an easy pick for Friday night but Saturday and Sunday were up in the air. But, the given going into this season was who opens the bullpen gate on the back end. It’s Parker Caracci.
The redshirt junior emerged onto the scene in 2018 after fighting is way onto the team and earning his spot AND scholarship. After that, he led Mike Bianco’s bullpen last year on the way to All-SEC and All-American honors and a spot on the Team USA National team. All he did in his first year in the SEC was go 5-2 with a 2.25 earned run average, earning 10 saves and striking out 73(!) in 48 innings.
Well, spoiler alert, the Jackson, Miss. native has been a stud in 2019 as well.*
*EDITOR’S NOTE: this post will in no way negatively affect Parker Caracci’s ability to pitch and/or jinx him and the Ole Miss Rebels in any way this season.
So far in four appearances in conference, the Karate Kid has been untouchable. He has notched three saves and a win in 7.2 innings. His earned run average is a decent 0.00, he’s allowed just two hits, walked one, and struck out 10. He’s also only allowed one hit or fewer in five.
Early in the season he got roughed up against Tulane and took the loss on the road. Then he surrendered three earned runs to a bad Long Beach State team and folks were wondering “what happened to our All-American closer?”
Ben Garrett of The Ole Miss Spirit talked with the head coach on Saturday after the sweep was secured and he seems to feel the same way we do about Caracci.
“With this offense, you hope that you’ll make it close,” Bianco said. “You don’t think you’re going to put up eight runs in the fifth, but you hope that you can get a couple of zeroes. To me, that was the biggest thing. We find somebody, and (Austin) Miller was that guy, who is able to put a couple of zeroes up. And, of course, we have the big inning. After that, you hand it off to Caracci.”
Since then, his fastball has been electric, sitting comfortably in the 92-95 mph range, and his secondary stuff is night and day better from last season. Caracci has really developed his slider, adding much-needed depth and side-to-side movement, and he has added a change-up that is the perfect change-of-pace pitch for him late in games.
He told Chase Parham of Rebel Grove that he cherishes those late game moments.
“I love having the ball in my hand,” Caracci said.
On Saturday in game two of the doubleheader, he trotted out of the bullpen and tossed 3.2 innings of shutout baseball, his longest outing of the year. Parker secured the final 11 outs of the game, giving up only one hit and settling things down after the Rebels battled back from eight runs down, taking the lead, and holding off the Gators.
Now that conference season is in full swing and the weather is getting better and better with each passing weekend, things are only going to become more fun with Caracci throwing in the latter innings. Hotter weather, hotter fastball.
The weekend rotation is at least 2⁄3 complete with Ethridge doing his thing in game one and freshman Doug Nikhazy baffling opponents in game two. But, despite game three still being something Bianco and assistant coach Carl Lafferty are trying to solve, the closer role has been settled. And this year is no different.
Baseball America’s Teddy Cahill was in town over the weekend and spoke with Bianco after the series sweep.
“We’ve been pretty good, especially the last two weeks,” Bianco said. “If we swing like this and pitch in the clutch, we can be all right.”