The bullpen was the backbone of an Ole Miss team that hosted a regional a year ago and narrowly missed out on a national seed. Head coach Mike Bianco had a slew of young pitchers whom he could go to in the late innings of the game. Freshmen like Andy Pagnozzi, Dallas Woolfolk, Connor Green and Andrew Lowe all loomed in a deep Rebels bullpen, giving Bianco options late in the game.
With all the aforementioned names returning and a talented freshman class, Bianco will likely have that luxury again this year, and it could be even deeper. The rotation was announced at media day Monday, and it will consist of junior left-hander David Parkinson, sophomore lefty James McArthur and sophomore right-hander Brady Feigl. This means that a trio of freshmen who were in the running for a rotation slot will begin the year in the pen: Will Ethridge, Ryan Rolison and Greer Holston.
“Along with those guys Rolison, Greer and Ethridge, they’ll start off in the bullpen with what I consider another outstanding bullpen,” Bianco said. “As many of you know, much of our success last year was due to a very strong bullpen. This year again, Andy Pagnozzi is back in the bullpen, a freshman All-American. Connor Green, who had 20 appearances last year as a true freshman, is back in the bullpen with Dallas Woolfolk, who I believe led the team in ERA last year.”
The first thing that jumps off the page about the pen is that it is loaded with right-handers, and if it lacks anything, it’s a left-handed arm with experience. That is precisely why Rolison could end up having an invaluable role for the Rebels as a freshman, whether it be out of the pen or the rotation, because there is a good chance he could work his way in there at some point this year. He’s a guy whose fastball will sit in the mid 90s, complemented by a changeup and a breaking ball that each has a lot of movement. Rolison and Holston were two of the freshmen who impressed the coaching staff in the fall, and Rolison could help Bianco play the matchup game late in ballgames.
This majority right-handed group will all attempt to bridge the gap between the middle innings to the ninth, handing the ball over to junior closer Will Stokes, who set a program record for appearances last year with 30. There may not be a more weathered guy on the team than Stokes, who was thrown into the fire as a freshman and asked to start on Sundays and then found his way last year, thriving on the back end of the pen with Wyatt Short.
“Maybe if we’d let him, he probably would’ve broken the saves record last year as many times as he got in, but we were fortunate enough to have Wyatt. But my confidence level is at an all-time high. You’re talking about a guy who’s maybe not the returning closer, but a guy who’s close to being that guy,” Bianco said. “A guy who’s had a lot of success over his first two years in the program, a guy who has tremendous stuff. He’s got a big-time fastball that he’ll throw low to mid-90s and a hard slider. A guy with excellent command who’s been there before, been in our league, and he’s a guy that started games in our league as a true freshman.”
It will be interesting to watch how all of these arms fall into different roles in the bullpen this year. But if one thing is for certain, it is that Bianco has a lot of options.