Southern Miss’ pitching staff looks to be the most promising part of the Golden Eagle squad. Of the total 550.1 innings pitched, Southern Miss returns 378 innings. The most imperative part of that is the return of Walker Powell and Stevie Powers, which combine for 156 of those returned innings.
“That’s the most we ever returned in a long long time,” Head Coach Scott Berry said. “With that, you have guys who have real starting experience. You have Walker Powell and you have Stevie Powers. You have Jarod Wright, who made some weekday starts a little bit in there. I think if you look at some possibilities of who might be starters outside of Powell, Powers and Wallner, Alex Nelms has been really impressive. He and [Coach Ostrander] have complimented each other in their work. He’s really moving in his development. You also have Mason Strickland who is that swing guy obviously.”
Powell finally made his return to the mound after having to redshirt his sophomore year due to his second Tommy John surgery. Powell had to be eased in early in the season being limited to just three innings in the midweek role last year but he progressed as expected and made his way as the Sunday start in the weekend rotation last season. Powell became the solid No. 3 starter that most teams look for, but now with Sandlin gone, the coaches, as well as the fans, will look for him to be a reliable factor. The biggest issue for Powell was having to slowly rebuild and bring himself back to where he was prior to his second surgery. Overall, Powell posted a 3.80 ERA and a 7-3 record where he struck out 62 and walked 14.
For Ostrander, he felt Powell was patient with his recovery and may help him turn in better season performance.
“I said [recovery] is a process,” Ostrander said. “I said it’s like learning to walk again. You got to go out there and get your feet wet and do all of that. I thought he did a great job of that last year. Now he’s got that part done. Now he’s focusing on the strength games and stuff. I see his velocity is creeping up a bit more. It’s affecting his action on his pitches better. Knock on wood, very excited to see where he is at. He had a great year for us last year. He threw 80-something innings. I’m not asking him to do any more than that. You know, just go out there and give us a chance to win. But he’s feeling good. Been throwing the ball well as is Stevie.”
The presumptive Friday night starter had a breakout season that may have been slightly overshadowed by Nick Sandlin’s historical season that brought him some national headlines. However, some may forget that Powers took over Sandlin’s Friday night role in back-to-back weeks against Florida International and Middle Tennessee. Against FIU, Powers threw a complete game shutout where he struck out 10 on the road, and against Middle Tennessee, he threw eight innings and struck out 12. Those two weekends proved Powers could handle the job of Friday starter and possibly be the future ace of the pitching staff. Despite his 4.07 ERA, Powers struck out 73, walked just 14 and posted a 5-2 record.
“[With Stevie] I know what I’m going to get,” pitching coach Chris Ostrander said. “He is going to compete. It’s going to be different. He’s going to get to the finish line different than Nick [Sandlin] did.”
Matt Wallner Sunday/Midweek
The surprise role change for this season was Wallner being moved to the starter role rather than his relief role the last two seasons. In 14.2 innings, Wallner struck out 16 and walked four but posted a 7.95 ERA. Wallner’s best pitch may be his fastball, where he has 95 mph, but now he has added several pitches to his arsenal with a slider and splitter. The hidden factor is how Ostrander has been successful with turning bullpen pitchers into pristine pitchers dating back to his days at Louisiana Tech and most recent Sandlin and Powers’ success. Wallner’s hip injury kept him from throwing bullpen sessions last year and kept him off the mound. However, he has looked healthy and has been molded for a starter job. The biggest trick for the coaching staff is the timeliness of his pitching. For Berry, it’s a much similar situation that he had with third baseman Taylor Braley in the 2017 season.
“Taylor pitched more his freshman year than he did his sophomore year, and then he pitched a whole lot for his junior year. That’s kind of what I see in Matt in the role that he’s going to play, but certainly utilize his arm and his abilities on the mound,” Berry said. “Last year we were afraid to throw him in bullpens because of the hip he injured in the fall. We didn’t want to take away from his abilities in the outfield with the bat so were a little skeptical and hesitant to use him last year and really work with him in the pins like he needed.”
Wallner will see his debut as a starter this season in the midweek, which leaves the Sunday slot open for at least the first few weeks of the season. If things do not play out as planned, then the team will have to search for its third starts. However, as reported by D1baseball.com’s Kendall Rogers, a lower forearm injury will keep Wallner from pitching in the opening weekend. Of this listed by Berry were Alex Nelms, Jarod Wright, Cody Carroll and Mason Strickland.
“Alex Nelms has been really impressive. He and [Coach Ostrander] have complimented each other in their work. He’s really moving in his development,” Berry said. “I feel that he has really grown from those experiences last year, both positive and negative, good or bad, success or failure. He’s a very very sharp young man. Very intelligent young man. One that studies the game, and you can see that his game has really moved this year from last year and years prior.”
Jarod Wright and Cody Carroll
“Wright and Carroll both sat out in the fall to let their arms rest off of summer work,” Berry said. “Their bullpen sessions, I watched them yesterday, looked very strong. Hopefully, them sitting out just like Nick Sandlin did the fall prior. We sat him out and he proved to be healthy, strong and refreshed in the coming spring.”
“Mason Strickland is that swing guy obviously,” Berry said. “You hang your hat on him for what he did at 9 o’clock championship day to get us to that 1 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.”
“You have to give them time,” pitching coach Christian Ostrander said. “There’s got to be a period in there to really recover and stuff and I try to mix those in. We took the month of November off from throwing after our fall practice with I’d say 90 percent of the guys and pick it back up in December and build it up to where we are now. For Cody and Jarod they both pitched significant innings in the summer. On top of that they pitched all of last fall, last spring and then the whole summer so it was time. They felt like they needed time to let that arm recover and I agree 100 percent. They feel great right now. They feel strong look good so hopefully it paid off.”
This story was updated on: Feb. 13