Mike Bianco stood with his arms crossed over his chest behind one of the two pitching mounds in the Ole Miss bullpen in the left field corner of Swayze Field and watched freshman left-hander Ryan Rolison toss pitch after pitch under a clear and sunny sky Wednesday afternoon. It was Rolison’s final tuneup before he makes his first SEC start Saturday against Mississippi State in the series finale.
“It went pretty good,” Bianco said of his freshman pitcher. “He’s ready to go.”
Bianco announced earlier this week that Rolison would be inserted into the weekend rotation after right-handers Brady Feigl, Will Ethridge and Greer Holston tried their hand in the No. 3 slot in the rotation. Bianco hopes Rolison will bring stability to the back end of Ole Miss’ pitching staff and allow guys in the bullpen to develop some consistent roles.
“I think that is part of it,” Bianco said. “So much has been made about the offense, but one of the things that concerns me is that I think the sooner that we can sew up, so to speak, the stronger our staff will be. Can we get to a rotation that we are going to use for a few weeks and develop some roles in the bullpen. What has happened the last few weeks is that one of the guys that is going to be in the bullpen or the guy going to be a starter – we have flipped them – so you lose both of those guys for that Tuesday start. Plus, you have a short week where you’re playing on that Thursday.”
This is Rolison’s first SEC start, but he’s already started a couple of times this year against Georgia State and Nichols State. He didn’t allow a run in either game and totaled 11 shutout innings in the two starts. Rolison also has nine relief appearances and boasts a 1.80 ERA in 20 innings of work on the season.
He said he relishes this opportunity, especially with it being Ole Miss’ in-state rival.
“I would say there are a little bit more jitters because it’s Mississippi State and it is going to be an electric atmosphere,” Rolison said. “But nothing is going to change with me. I am going to stay within myself and just try to fill up the zone as much as I can.”
The Southeastern Conference is the most competitive college baseball league in the country. More often than not, game three decides a weekend series in a conference where the margin of error is so slim. Rolison is eager to be able to try to swing series in the Rebels’ favor and give this club a lift as it dives into the heart of SEC play.
“It would be nice to be that turning guy with a 1-1 series,” Rolison said. “But hopefully we can go 2-0 on them and try to get the sweep.”
Rolison was working on his curveball in his bullpen session Wednesday and has used that pitch to get ahead of hitters as he’s adjusted to how good SEC hitters are.
“I felt good. I was working on some things with my curveball so I can get ahead with batters this weekend,” Rolison said.
He’s used that electric fastball to strike out 26 hitters this season and is still developing a change-up as a third pitch. Rolison said he’s gotten help from veteran David Parkinson on his change-up grip, moving his pinky finger higher up on the baseball to allow for more movement and control.
“The change-up has come a long way. David Parkinson has helped me with my grip and just trusting it and not trying to make it too perfect and throw it for strikes. That will be a big factor for me,” Rolison said. “My pinky was down on the ball more, and it forced me to cut it a little bit more than I wanted to, so we moved it up more to kind of stay on top of the ball to get that arm side movement that I wanted.”
Rolison’s move to the pen has put Feigl in a familiar role. He and Andy Pagnozzi were effective last season as freshmen in middle relief. Both of the right-handers ate up a lot of innings when the starting pitching faltered and blazed a path to the later innings of the game.
“I call them out-eaters,” Bianco said. “Guys that bridge that gap to the Stokes and the Woolfolks. Last year, Pags was a guy like that. (Connor) Green was a guy like that. This year, we have been kind of searching. There have been times where those guys have pitched really well.”
Bianco wants consistency out of Rolison and to avoid the revolving door that’s been in motion at the end of the rotation, something Bianco dealt with the last two seasons. If Rolison is good, it will give this team that consistency it desires, as well as more flexibility in the bullpen.