After Tuesday, there isn’t much riddle staying about how Ole Miss’ baseball crew will look on Opening Weekend.
Ole Miss mentor Mike Bianco declared the Rebels’ beginning lineup and end of the week pitching rotation for the up and coming season on Tuesday, filling in some of the gaps that had spent the spring shrouded in mystery.
As was normal, junior right-hander Will Ethridge will get the ball as the Friday night starter to open the season versus Wright State, making his change from believed warm up area arm to potential ace official. Behind Ethridge, Ole Miss will begin junior college left-hander Zack Phillips on Saturday and first year freshman right-hander Gunnar Hoglund on Sunday.
Bianco said he and Ethridge had conversations about Ethridge being “the guy” back in the summer, but the coach said his junior right-hander left no doubt about being the top arm in the rotation in the fall and spring. Combining fall and spring sessions, Ethridge posted a 0.60 ERA across 15 innings, striking out 18 batters with four walks. No Ole Miss pitcher posted a better ERA or strikeout-to-walk ratio over that span.
Phillips hasn’t fared much more terrible. In 10 innings this spring, Phillips posted a 1.80 ERA with a 0.90 WHIP and 11 strikeouts. Phillips earned All-Conference and All-Region respects at Grayson Community College in Texas.
In Hoglund, Ole Miss has a green freshman pitcher who turned down first-round MLB Draft cash by playing for the Rebels rather than sign with the Pittsburgh Pirates who drafted him No. 36 by and large in June. To Bianco, Hoglund has been nearly as great as Ethridge since he arrived on campus in the fall.
“I mentioned about Will having the best fall and spring of any pitcher,” Bianco said. “The second I think without a doubt would be Gunnar. I think Gunnar had a rough Saturday this past Saturday, but prior to that he had only given up three runs in all those other starts. He’s been real dominant in all those intrasquad games. He’s a guy that possesses a big-time fastball but a good breaking ball and changeup, excellent command, really can throw the ball on both sides of the plate. For a true freshman he has a lot of poise.”
With Ethridge, Phillips and Hoglund making up the starting rotation, one man that leaves on the outside is junior right-hander Houston Roth. Roth was considered a top candidate to earn a spot in the weekend rotation, but Bianco said the Rebels will use him in the bullpen and potentially as a midweek starter.
As for the lineup…
Per Bianco, Ole Miss’ everyday lineup will be as follows:
Catcher: Cooper Johnson 1B: Cole Zabowski 2B: Anthony Servideo 3B: Tyler Keenan SS: Grae Kessinger LF: Thomas Dillard CF: Ryan Olenek RF: Tim Elko DH: Chase Cockrell
Johnson gains the beginning catcher job however will probably be in a revolution behind the plate with Dillard, who has found this spring in the middle of reps in the outfield, and Knox Loposer, who is healthy in the wake of spending a great part of the spring rehabbing an injury.
Servideo wins the starting job at second base after an offseason-long competition with senior Jacob Adams, though Bianco said he expects to play both Servideo and Adams early in the season. There is a chance both play on Opening Day versus Wright State if Kessinger isn’t healthy yet as the shortstop continues to nurse an ankle injury he sustained two weeks ago.
Elko stood in the spring, batting .387 with a 1.135 OPS in nine game, smacking smacking six singles, four doubles, a triple and a home run with two RBI and seven runs scored.
Ole Miss begins the season on Friday in the first game of a three-game series versus Wright State.