ATHENS, Ga. -- Fresh off an 8-7 comeback win against Clemson on Wednesday, Georgia (20-13, 5-7 SEC) opens another key SEC series against No. 19 Ole Miss (23-10, 6-6) today at Foley Field.
It’s the only time in this month’s crucial stretch of Georgia’s conference schedule -- also including last weekend’s series at No. 9 Arkansas and upcoming series at No. 4 Florida and No. 7 LSU -- that the Bulldogs will play a home SEC series.
Georgia was 2-7 in its last nine games entering the Clemson game and trailed the Tigers 5-0 early, but the Bulldogs rallied with a rare big inning -- a six-run fifth frame -- en route to a valuable non-conference victory.
The Bulldogs hope to continue that momentum in tonight’s rare Thursday night conference game, which starts at 7:30 p.m. and will air live on ESPNU.
Let’s take a look at the Bulldogs by the numbers entering another big series:
Friday fire: Georgia hasn’t had any problems getting SEC series off to a good start. The problem has been finishing them with a flourish.
Thanks largely to the dominance of Friday night starter Alex Wood (4-1, 2.45 ERA), the Bulldogs are 4-0 in SEC series openers. However, they typically haven’t gotten as much from their starting pitchers or offense without Wood on the mound, leading to a 1-7 mark in the second and third games of SEC series.
Wood will not be on the mound to start off the Ole Miss series, as he will remain in his traditional Friday night role. Senior Michael Palazzone (0-4, 5.68) will be the guy hoping to help the Bulldogs start the series with another win tonight.
Who’s your pal?: Speaking of Palazzone, getting him back to last season’s form would provide a major boost for the slumping Bulldogs.
Palazzone was the staff ace a year ago, posting a 10-5 record and 3.14 ERA, but his senior year has been plagued by injuries thus far. He experienced arm trouble early in the spring and then broke his nose when hit by a ball while warming up before the March 30 rainout against Kentucky. He still pitched that Sunday’s game, allowing eight earned runs in five innings, and then surrendered five earned runs in four innings of last Saturday’s 8-3 loss at Arkansas. If Palazzone puts it all together again sometime soon, the Bulldogs will become a different club.
Rotation shakeup: Palazzone’s issues are not the only problems that have plagued the rotation. The third starter spot needed a revolving door for several weeks. After freshmen Taylor Hicks (2-2, 5.62) and Pete Nagel (0-1, 3.90) posted uneven results as the Sunday starter, Blake Dieterich (3-1, 1.82) will now start the third game of the Ole Miss series. Dieterich has been working as the Bulldogs’ closer -- he worked a 1-2-3 ninth Wednesday against Clemson, in fact, posting his sixth save -- in place of injured Tyler Maloof, so that role will be open for a number of pitchers to possibly claim.
Big inning: Georgia coach David Perno has remarked several times this season that the Bulldogs’ scuffling offense has often failed to convert on its chances for big innings.
Their six-run fifth inning against Clemson -- featuring four hits and three walks -- was just the third time in 33 games that the Bulldogs scored at least that many runs in a single inning this season. The other two instances both came against Alcorn State, which ranks 284th out of 291 teams in NCAA Division I with an 8.11 ERA.
The Bulldogs are averaging just 3.8 runs per game in SEC play, so they would certainly benefit from improved hitting with runners on base.
Slumping seniors: Two leading candidates to solve that problem would be the only Bulldogs who batted better than .300 last season: Levi Hyams (.332 in 2011) and Kyle Farmer (.308).
Farmer (.296, 3 HR, team-high 19 RBIs) has been solid in spells, but Hyams (.234, 2 HR, 16 RBIs) has struggled for much of the spring. He is batting .182 in SEC games alone.
Perno expected his seniors -- a group that also includes Colby May (.284, 2 HR, 14 RBIs) and Peter Verdin (.261, 0 HR, 14 RBIs) -- to pace the offense this year and they have done that intermittently at best. Freshman Hunter Cole (.320, 6 HR, 16 RBIs) has instead been the team’s top offensive performer. If the upperclassmen start producing at a level similar to that of their freshman teammate, the Bulldogs’ offense will make enormous strides down the stretch.