Saturday was a microcosm of the entire weekend for Ole Miss. A short outing from its starter, minimal offense, and poor defensive play doomed the Rebels in game three as it ended the same way as the first two, in defeat. South Carolina handed Ole Miss its third consecutive loss, this one by a score of 4-0, and its first sweep at home since 2013.
“The truth of the matter is that we were not very good this weekend in all phases,” Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco said. “Everybody’s to blame, including the coaches.”
Ole Miss did not announce a starter until Saturday morning when the lineup was released, and Andy Pagnozzi drew his first career SEC start in place of Sean Johnson, and it did not go how the freshman right hander had hoped.
“Really just not making pitches, and I was just leaving things over the plate. I really just did not have all of my stuff today,” Pagnozzi said.
South Carolina put up three in the first inning on four hits off of Pagnozzi and quickly grabbed control of the game. Pagnozzi settled down after that though, and was able to put up consecutive scoreless innings before exiting the game in the fourth.
“After three runs in the first inning, I just kind of settled down and started making pitches,” Pagnozzi said. “Things started going a little better.”
It was not clear leading up to the game whether Johnson had injured himself, or if it was something else, Bianco answered that after the game, saying that Johnson just needed a rest after a dip in velocity.
“Really the thing was to give Sean a break,” Bianco said. “Sean has pitched well, and competed so so well for us, but really his stuff has deteriorated.”
Pagnozzi said he knew since Tuesday that he was starting and that the plan all along was to rest Johnson, who is still a year removed from Tommy John surgery. Bianco said that he anticipates Johnson being back next weekend and that he will be evaluated in bullpen sessions this week.
In an uncharacteristically-early calling, Wyatt Short entered the game in relief in the fourth inning. The Rebel closer pitched well, and kept Ole Miss within striking distance. Short finished out the game, going 5.2 innings, allowing just one unearned run and allowing one hit.
“He was really good,” Bianco said. “We told him before that ‘hey we’re going to go to you early.’”
“I felt good the whole time,” Short said. “Coach Huber’s working with me with legs, keeping less stress on the arm. I felt like I could go even more if I had to.”
Short’s extended outing made it seem like he could be a starter if Ole Miss is unable to solidify its rotation, and though he has not started a game since high school, he is confident he could slide in the role if need be.
“I am here to do whatever the team needs me to do,” Short said. “If he wants me to start, then I’ll start. If he wants me to stay in the back of the bullpen, then I’ll stay in the back of the bullpen. It’s all up to coach B.”
Short said he and Bianco have discussed the move to being a starter, but those talks were before the season started. Bianco acknowledged it as a possibility, but is hesitant to move a key piece to a bullpen that has been dominant to start this season.
“We’ve talked about it early on, and certainly, especially after the outing today,” Bianco said. “But there’s other things. Once you pull him out of there, then the back end, not that it gets complicated, but you’ve got to make some different moves.”
Bianco expects Johnson to come back next week, and even though he did not specify in what role, moving Short into a starting role did not sound likely, at least for the near future.
Despite Short’s strong, extended outing, the Ole Miss bats that were stifled all weekend, were shutout completely on Saturday and tallied just five hits.
the loss, Ole Miss fell to 20-5 (2-4) and South Carolina improved to 23-2 (6-0). The Rebels return to action on Wednesday against Memphis. First pitch is set for 6:30 P.M