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Godwin the difference in this year’s offensive output

Alex Edwards/The Daily Mississippian

 

Ole Miss hitting coach Cliff Godwin was hired for two main reasons: he’s a proven recruiter and he’s a proven hitting coach. The early assessment is that he’s done a remarkably good job.

He and fellow assistant Carl Lafferty are a dominant duo on the recruiting trail as next year’s class has the potential to be better than last year’s, which ranked third best in the country, but the most glaring thing is the improvement at the plate.

As a club, Ole Miss hit .282 last season. This year, they have a .312 team batting average.

What’s even more telling is the strikeout numbers. In 2011, the Rebels struck out 6.7 times per game on average, compared to less than five times per game so far this season, which ranks best in the SEC.

Ole Miss averaged 9.5 hits per contest last year. This season that average has risen to 10.9 hits per game. Of course, these hits have translated to runs as well. In 2011, the Rebels averaged 5.5 runs per game, but so far this season, they are averaging 6.9 runs per game.

It’s obvious the offense has improved, but player progression has been even more impressive.

Take senior designated hitter Zach Kirksey, for instance. Last year, he hit a mere .192 and struck out 25 times in 52 at-bats, but this season Kirksey is batting .299 with 37 RBI and 10 home runs. Kirksey has only struck out 19 times in 77 at-bats.

Senior first baseman Matt Snyder has also shown great improvement at the plate. In 2011, Snyder finished with a .301 batting average with 39 RBI and nine home runs while striking out 40 times in 176 at-bats. This year, he is hitting .362 to go along with 37 RBI and seven home runs at this point in the season. Snyder has only struck out 15 times in 116 at-bats.

“I think he’s seeing it good,” Godwin said of Snyder. “We faced lefties all weekend (against Kentucky), and for him to have some of the at-bats that he had, he had like five RBI on the weekend and one big swing. The game we won, a lot of credit goes to Matt Snyder hitting a grand slam off a left-handed pitcher.”

All season long, players have talked about winning pitches and having quality at-bats. There’s a reason for that, according to Godwin.

“You look at the big innings that we’ve had in SEC play,” Godwin said. “Whether it be Saturday’s game (at Kentucky), Saturday against Alabama or Sunday’s eighth inning against Alabama, we were just able to string a lot of quality at-bats together.

“That’s the one thing we’ve really got to try to focus on — trying to get more together. Instead of getting two or three and scoring one run, if we can have five quality at-bats in one inning, we are pretty much guaranteed to score more than one run.”

The Rebels did go through a little stretch where they struggled mightily at the plate, and last weekend against Kentucky, the two games they lost were a result of not capitalizing on scoring chances.

“In the SEC, your opportunities are limited to have the big inning,” Godwin said. “The first inning (on Sunday) was our inning. Mathis gets on, Bousfield singles, Yarbrough hits the ball really well, we tag up, Snyder (gets) a first-pitch RBI and then, Will comes up. He just didn’t make him elevate the baseball. He’s swinging, being aggressive. He just swung at a bad pitch, hits the ball to the shortstop and they’re out of the inning with one run instead of ‘We’ve got the guy on the ropes and we’ve got to knock him out right there.’”

Friday night’s game was another one in which Ole Miss missed chances to put runs on the board.

“We feel like we really should’ve won that game,” Godwin said. “We had three guys thrown out at the plate. I don’t think I’ve ever had two guys thrown out at the plate in one game, and we had three. But you’ve got to learn from it.”

And so far, the Rebels have learned a lot from Godwin.