OXFORD – Ole Miss opens baseball season Friday against Florida International, the Rebels’ first step in trying to climb back among the nation’s elite.
The first season after their SEC West title and College World Series appearance, 2015 ended with a 30-28 record and a two-out NCAA tournament appearance in which the Rebels scored just two runs in two games and did nothing to suggest the selection committee should not have sent them to Los Angeles for postseason.
Ole Miss ended the season No. 10 in fielding, No. 11 in hitting and No. 13 in pitching among the 14 SEC teams.
“At the end of the day you can sugar coat it however you want, but we just weren’t very good,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said Tuesday.
Bianco believes things will be different in 2016 due in large part to pitching. He knows there’s quantity and likes the potential for quality.
Ole Miss loses soft-tossing left-hander Christian Trent, who was 7-7 with a 3.74 earned run average last year and was a critical piece of the CWS puzzle two years ago.
Trent and Brady Bramlett helped the Rebels compete on SEC weekends last year, and their 15-14 conference mark got them into the NCAA tournament.
But three different pitchers had Tommy John surgery, and a fourth, senior Sam Smith, didn’t pitch as well as he had in previous seasons.
It all added up to depth problems at the end of each weekend, problems that lingered into the next week. Ole Miss was just 15-14 in non-conference games.
Bianco and his coaches looked long and hard for pitching to add to the roster, and this year’s team includes 11 arms that weren’t around a year ago.
“We’ve got a lot of talent, talent that we didn’t have last year, I’d say,” junior outfielder J.B. Woodman said.
Not all the arms are brand new. Bianco said senior reliever Wyatt Short and sophomore Will Stokes, who pitched as both a starter and reliever, have turned in strong offseason work. Sean Johnson, a hard-throwing, 6-foot-7 right-hander, was scheduled to be a weekend starter last year but was shut down early and had elbow surgery.
Bramlett, who was 7-4 with a 3.74 ERA last year, will start Friday.
From there, many of the names are new.
Junior college transfer Chad Smith will get a start this weekend along with Johnson.
Ole Miss fans should also familiarize themselves with juco transfer lefthander David Parkinson and true freshmen James McArthur and Dallas Woolfolk.
Parkinson and McArthur could land starting roles. Bianco expects Woolfolk to work out of the bullpen.
“We feel there’s enough pitching to be very competitive,” Bianco said. “We have to figure out the order and the roles.”