With college baseball’s opening day approaching, Ole Miss began spring practice on Friday and is looking to iron out any wrinkles before first pitch.
Possibly the largest uncertainty for the Rebels lies in the pitching rotation. Ole Miss lost weekend starters Ryan Rolison, Brady Feigl and James McArthur to the MLB Draft last summer and will have to work to replace all three before the season gets underway.
Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco addressed media on Monday and stressed the importance of deciding who will start on the mound each day.
“The biggest thing for the next three weeks is just figuring out the rotation,” Bianco said. “It looks like Will (Ethridge) will be the Friday night guy, but who’s going to follow him on Saturday and Sunday? What are the roles going to be in the bullpen? Who looks to maybe be that Tuesday-night starter? I think those are things we’re trying to answer over the next few weeks.”
Ethridge, a junior right-hander from Lilburn, Georgia, has limited experience as a Rebel starter and spent most of last season as a middle reliever out of the bullpen. The transition from reliever to starter — or vice versa — is a mental challenge for any pitcher, and Ethridge proved during fall camp that the rule holds true for him.
“Well, this spring will be the first time I’ve been starting since mid-March,” Ethridge said. “I’ve had to find that routine and get back out there and have that laser focus to start the game and possibly go five, six, seven or eight innings. That’s something I’ve had to figure out on my own this fall.”
According to Ethridge, the biggest difference between the relief role and his newest role is that he will have a large part in determining the beginning momentum of the game.
“Being a starter now, I’m the one that’s setting the tone for the game,” Ethridge said. “I’m going out there, and I have to bring the energy back for the bottom of the first inning for us to go out there and (score) some runs there.”
Although Ethridge is relatively new to a starting role, his veteran presence could prove to be vital in the Rebels’ clubhouse, especially to the younger arms on the roster.
“I go out there and just lead by example,” Ethridge said. “I find a way to put up zeros on the scoreboard and help the staff out that way. If someone struggles a little bit, (I try to) find something that can help them get back out there and put up some zeros.”
Bianco believes that Ethridge is ready for this role as a permanent weekend starter and has expected Ethridge to reach this point since he stepped on campus.
“Most of the time, you sign guys to be weekend guys, but sometimes when they get here, they’re not quite ready for that,” Bianco said. “Will got off to a great start, had a great freshman year (and) had a start or two on the weekend for us as a freshman. Last year, I think we just had a really good staff. It was one of those things where he got pushed back to the bullpen, but I don’t think there’s ever been a time where we didn’t think Will would be a weekend guy here.”
Ole Miss begins its 2019 season at home Feb. 15 against Wright State.