Breaking down the Southern Miss bullpen

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J.C. keys delivering pitch. Photo by: Andrew Abadie

The 2019 Southern Miss pitching staff boasts a level of depth it has not possessed in quite some time. The returning pitchers from last year’s lineup combined for just under 380 innings pitched in 2018. Although there are still questions as to which guys will man the starting positions, there is little to no question concerning the ability and experience that will be leaned on out of the bullpen. 

Still lingering in the minds of many Southern Miss fans is the memorable play of reliever Mason Strickland during the 2018 postseason. Strickland returns this spring for his senior year with the team and will be looked to as a reliable veteran presence in the bullpen. 

“[Strickland is] that swing guy obviously,” Southern Miss head coach Scott Berry said. “You hang your hat on him for what he did in that nine o’clock championship game to get us to the one o’clock game on Sunday against Florida Atlantic. You know how he just really carved that Charlotte team up. It sort of gives you options as a starter. It also gives you options as a relief guy as well.” 

As a junior, Strickland pitched 49.1 innings for the Golden Eagles with 29 strikeouts, two registered wins and an ERA of 2.74. 

Junior Alex Nelms is another seasoned member of the staff with potential to make an impact both as a starter and as a reliever. Nelms pitched 29 innings through his freshman and sophomore seasons, allowing 26 hits while racking up 24 strikeouts with a career 6.52 ERA. Despite a decline in production last spring, his coaches are confident in the work he put in over the offseason to bounce back. 

“I feel that he [Nelms] has really grown from those experiences last year,” Berry said. “Both positive and negative, good or bad, success or failure. He’s a very, very sharp young man, very intelligent. One that studies the game and you can see that his game has really moved this year from last year and years prior.”

In addition to the returning experience from last season comes redshirt junior transfer Brant Blaylock, who has an impressive resume both at the plate and on the mound and will see playing time as a reliever this spring.

“I’m hoping to be a back end guy, someone who can step in and help late in games,” Blaylock said. The DeSoto Central graduate has experience pitching for Mississippi State as a redshirt freshman as well as a season at Northwest Mississippi Community College, where he appeared in eight games as a pitcher. Blaylock’s strength and versatility make him a Swiss Army knife of a player who can contribute to the team in multiple ways. 

Near the end of games, fans can expect to see senior J.C. Keys handle a majority of closing duties on the mound. With extensive experience as a reliever and a starter under his belt, Keys’ coaches feel confident in his ability to come through in tight spots through the back end of the bullpen. 

“We all know that he can touch 94 [miles per hour] with a power breaking ball,” Berry said. “A changeup that can offset some hitters at time, disrupt some timing. He certainly has got a smooth, electric arm. With that being in place, looking at the history of him, we’re looking at moving him to the back end of the game and just letting him come in and blow it for three outs and hopefully getting us the win.” 

With such experience coming out of the bullpen to support the starting rotation, Berry and his staff hope for pitching depth to be a strong point for Southern Miss baseball in 2019.