After a series win at Tulane and a midweek win over UT Martin, Ole Miss baseball continues its nine-game homestand this weekend with a series against Long Beach State.
Long Beach State, officially known as the “49ers” but typically called the “Dirtbags” on the baseball diamond, comes to Oxford from California with a record of 0-7, its worst start in program history.
The Dirtbags opened the season being swept by Florida before dropping a midweek game against San Diego and losing three to Nevada. Surprisingly for a program that has put 51 players in the Major League, the Dirtbags are coming to Oxford hungry for their first win of 2019.
Last season, Ole Miss traveled west to take on the Dirtbags and suffered its first loss of the season in the series opener. But Ole Miss managed to backend a series win with victories in games two and three. This weekend’s series could be crucial for Rebel starting pitching, which has struggled mightily in its first seven games.
While Friday-night ace Will Ethridge did not allow an earned run in his first and only appearance of the season, the Rebels have trailed at least once in every game so far in 2019, not including Ethridge’s season opener against Wright State.
Although the Rebel starters have struggled on the hill so far this season, Long Beach State is batting .156 as a team, and no Dirtbag batter has a batting average over .300. If Ole Miss can keep Long Beach State cold at the plate, this could help get the starting rotation on track for the rest of the season.
Speaking of starting pitching, Ethridge’s will be a key storyline to watch this weekend in Oxford. Ethridge was pulled after 5.2 innings in Ole Miss’s season opener, as a blister developed on his pitching hand. This injury sidelined Ethridge last weekend against Tulane, and he will likely be a little rusty after not seeing game action for two weeks.
As of now, Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco plans to stick with his typical rotation this weekend, giving the ball to Zack Phillips on Saturday and Gunnar Hoglund on Sunday. Bianco plans to start Ethridge on Friday if he is is ready.
“Will (Ethridge) threw (in the) bullpen today,” Bianco said after Tuesday’s game. “It’s just the bullpen, but we’ll see how he feels (on Wednesday). We’ll probably make a decision either on Thursday or Friday.”
Outside of starting pitching, Ole Miss has been largely successful on the diamond in its first seven games, especially at the plate. As a team, the Rebels are batting .305 with six batters holding an average of .300 or better — including Ryan Olenek and Thomas Dillard, who are each batting .481. The Rebels have also racked up 15 home runs in their first seven games, nine of which have come off the bats of Dillard and Tyler Keenan.
Also efficient for the Rebels thus far has been the work of the bullpen. After Jordan Fowler allowed five runs in just 1.2 innings on Tuesday, the Ole Miss bullpen took over and allowed just one run on four hits in the rest of the game.
One interesting note was the pitching of typical center-fielder Ryan Olenek in the ninth inning. Olenek, who had a successful pitching career in high school, took care of UT Martin in the final frame, hitting 92 mph on the radar gun with his fastball and racking up two strikeouts.
According to both Bianco and Olenek, as long as he shows himself capable on the mound, we could see more of Olenek coming in as relief for the Rebels.
Adam Seminaris, John Sheaks and Alfredo Ruiz started, in that order, for the Dirtbags last weekend against Nevada and are expected to take the hill this weekend against the Rebels.
Friday’s series opener starts at 6:30 p.m. and will be followed by a 1:30 p.m. start on Saturday and a noon start on Sunday.