Freshman McArthur could be x-factor for Ole Miss postseason run

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Despite how effective Mike Bianco’s pitching staff has been as a whole, the number two and three spots in his weekend rotation have been subpar. Recently Chad Smith was replaced by David Parkinson in the traditional “Saturday” role, however, three different guys have gotten cracks on Sunday. Those three guys, which includes four outings from Sean Johnson and one each from Andy Pagnozzi and Wyatt Short, have combined to go 3-3 in SEC series finales.

That trio have combined to allow a total of 27 hits, 12 earned runs, 12 walks and six strikeouts in 19 innings of work.

This weekend reigning SEC Freshman of the Week James McArthur got his shot against LSU. His

line wasn’t headline worthy, but he was a link the chain that helped the Rebels get the crucial series win. Pagnozzi got the win on Sunday, but McArthur had to battle two rain delays and was unable to go beyond the fourth inning.

However, he did show that, against a tough SEC opponent, he can bare down and get out of jams. Maybe there were some nerves, as he walked four guys, but the step up in competition is something he can surely adjust to. Why not, he’s gotten better and better with each outing stepping up from the high school ranks to the college ranks. Now he must take his game to the level that will propel him and Ole Miss against talented, conference foes.

While the Sunday starter role has been in flux for going on a few seasons now, so has the midweek role. The big Texan has brought stability to that area. The 6’7 New Braunfels, Texas, native has put together an impressive season so far as the primary mid-week starter. In eight midweek starts he has a record of 5-o, having tossed 38.1 innings, while giving up 38 hits, 13 earned runs and eight walks, and striking out 39 batters.

But with each conference victory so precious now, he would be much more valuable to the Rebels solidifying the role as third weekend starter. What’s more, its a role that McArthur has more than earned. In fact, one could argue that he should have found a place throwing on the weekends weeks ago.

Mandatory Credit: Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports /

He did find himself on the mound against Auburn last Sunday(his SEC debut), and played a key role in the Rebels getting the sweep. After entering the game in the second inning, he would grind out 4.2 innings of work in which he struck out four and surrendered just two hits.

If he could bring put together outings like that on Sundays going forward, it is conceivable that the Rebels could swing another sweep or even take a series in the series finale. Furthermore, in his seven prior outings(including his SEC debut against the Tigers) leading up to his first SEC start this weekend, he’s thrown 33.1 innings and earned all five of his victories, while striking out 39 and posting a 1.62 ERA.

Though McArthur seems to be locked in a zone lately, his season shows gradual improvement. Early on he pitched like a freshman, but as he has gained experience and grown comfortable, he’s built confidence. In his three appearances(two starts and one relief appearance) prior to his impressive stretch in his last seven outings, he allowed 10 hits and eight earned runs in 6.1 innings(faced 33 batters).

Since that rocky start, he’s managed to surrender one run or less in five of his seven outings, without allowing more than two runs any of those appearances. For the season he is 5-0 in 11 appearances(nine starts) with a 2.64 ERA. He’s allowed 45 hits, 14 earned runs and .251 batting average in 47.2 innings pitched, while striking out 45.

The emergence of McArthur has only strengthened the Ole Miss pitching staff and enhanced it’s already quality depth. If he settles in as the third starter, then you have a staff that goes from Brady Bramlet to Parkinson to McArthur to Smith. Pagnozzi and Johnson could also start if need be. That much starting pitching depth gives a team a distinct advantage in postseason play.

Pair that with a stout bullpen that can shorten a game due to the dominance of Will Stokes, Brady Feigl and Short, and Bianco’s staff could just be the best in the country. And coming together and gelling at just the right time, as well. Without McArthur that wouldn’t be possible. And what’s possible for Ole Miss, could also fall squarely on whether or not the freshman can succeed on the weekends in the ridiculously good SEC.