What we learned as Ole Miss baseball was swept by Florida
Mike Bianco said he likes the body language he sees in his Ole Miss baseball team, despite a winless start to SEC play.
But eventually, he acknowledged, that has to translate into making a big pitch or delivering a key hit in a big spot. The Rebels didn't do that this weekend, getting swept by Florida at Swayze Field in a three-game set.
Ole Miss dropped both legs of a Saturday doubleheader, 9-7 and 12-8, before falling 7-4 on Sunday.
Here's what we learned in this series between the Rebels (15-9, 0-6 SEC) and the Gators (22-4, 5-1).
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For now, Ole Miss' best starter might be the one who pitches on Sunday
For the second weekend in a row, the best start Ole Miss got came from its Sunday guy, Xavier Rivas.
The Division II transfer allowed two earned runs in the Rebels' Sunday defeat, scattering five hits and striking out four over 5.2 innings.
"I thought he was real good," Bianco said. "I thought he gave us an opportunity and even pitched better than the scoreboard shows...Two weekends in a row he's given us an opportunity on Sunday and that's all you can ask for."
Excluding the injured Hunter Elliott, Rivas owns what is comfortably the best earned run average among the Rebels' three weekend starters, with a 4.97 mark.
Grayson Saunier and Jack Dougherty have both struggled. Saunier was pummeled in the second game of this series, allowing five runs and getting just six outs. His ERA has ballooned up to 7.77.
Dougherty, one of the key figures in the Rebels' run to the College World Series last season, hasn't been effective, either. He allowed three earned runs in 4.2 innings of work and owns a 6.07 ERA on the season.
Arm shortage still a major problem
Ole Miss lacks viable arms out of the bullpen.
This isn't a new issue, but it's one that presented itself again this weekend. Ole Miss relievers allowed 13 earned runs over the course of the series, and many of those came with some of Bianco's preferred options on the mound.
Mason Nichols surrendered four runs in less than an inning of work and blew a lead in the first game of the series. Mitch Murrell was tabbed for two runs on Sunday to help Florida claim some vital insurance.
The weekend wasn't as disastrous for the bullpen as the performance they put in against Vanderbilt, when every Ole Miss reliever who took the mound allowed at least one run. But it was still problematic.
And it's difficult to see a solution beyond hoping for individual growth.
Riley Maddox posted on Twitter this week that he's throwing bullpen sessions at 75%, so perhaps the Rebels can get him back soon. Elliott's return ‒ set for mid-April – would allow Ole Miss to shift one of its starters into the bullpen, where maybe they would be more effective.
Still, it's going to take some progression from the players already within that unit for the Rebels to have an effective SEC bullpen.
Rebels lack power
Ole Miss had been hitting balls out of the park for fun during the nonconference portion of its schedule.
This weekend, the Rebels only left the yard once – on a longball from Kemp Alderman in the second game of the series.
Florida, by comparison, slugged 10 homers in the series against Ole Miss pitching.
The blame for this weekend's series sweep certainly does not lie at the feet of the Ole Miss offense, which scored 19 runs over the three games. But with 23 men left on base, a well-placed homer or two might have changed the outcome.
David Eckert covers Ole Miss for the Clarion Ledger. Email him at email@example.com or reach him on Twitter @davideckert98.
This article originally appeared on Mississippi Clarion Ledger: What we learned as Ole Miss baseball was swept by Florida