Bowden in midst of nasty funk

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 30, 2006

HATTIESBURG &8212; No one really saw this coming with Barry Bowden&8217;s efforts on the mound. Not his former coach, his current coach or even the hard-throwing Bowden himself.

He can&8217;t seem to throw strikes.

And who would have thunk it with the numbers he put up in high school at Vidalia? As a senior, he walked only 11 in 70 1/3 innings while fanning 138. As a junior, he went 80 1/3 innings while walking 16 and striking out 147.

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When he dominated on the mound with the Vikings in 2002 and 2003, folks used many words to describe him. Now with only two outings under his belt in Southern Miss&8217; 17 games so far this season, there&8217;s another word to describe Bowden.


&8220;He&8217;s really struggling,&8221; USM head coach Corky Palmer said. &8220;I don&8217;t know what&8217;s going on. We&8217;re trying to do everything we can to straighten it out, and he&8217;s working hard to straighten it out. Our coaches are working with him. We thought he&8217;d be one of our top guys. He&8217;s going to have to get himself back going.&8221;

Best of luck trying to pinpoint a reason for his inconsistencies. Bowden said he took the summer off from throwing after breaking out last season as a red-shirt freshman with 73 2/3 innings in 13 starts and three appearances out of the pen.

It was meant to give his arm a rest. But he hit trouble his first time out this season in in a Feb. 21 start against Mississippi Valley when he exited after throwing one inning and walking three.

&8220;I really couldn&8217;t tell you,&8221; Bowden said. &8220;I think by going out there and throwing, it&8217;ll get all worked out. I was just working on my command (over the break) and pitching just to keep my arm in shape. It&8217;s frustrating, of course. Coming from high school, I never had a control problem. This year it&8217;s bothered me. I never would have thought it.&8221;

That&8217;s what has made the situation so hard to believe. And the lack of command has put him back on the depth chart after finishing the 2005 season starting the opening game of the conference tournament, a seven-strikeout, one-walk performance against South Florida.

Since that appearance against Valley, Bowden has had one outing. He walked three, struck out four and allowed two earned runs on one hit in 2 1/3 innings of work against Louisiana Tech Wednesday night.

&8220;You&8217;ve got to perform in college,&8221; Vidalia head coach Johnny Lee Hoffpauir said. &8220;It&8217;s unbelievable the stats he put up in high school. He cannot find the strike zone. He pitched (against Tech), he struck out four and gave up an infield hit and a double. But he walked three and was behind in the count the whole time. He&8217;s having more trouble, and the more trouble he has it&8217;s getting into his head.&8221;

The good news, Bowden reports, is there&8217;s no pain in that right arm that forced him to take a medical red-shirt two seasons ago. He finished the 2005 season on a roll and even got the start in the opening game of the NCAA Regional in Oxford against Oklahoma, a 5-4 loss.

To get back in that rhythm, Bowden said, may be a matter of finding it again. The Eagles visit Alabama at 6:30 p.m. today and host Troy for a three-game series this weekend.

&8220;My control is still not there, but it&8217;s better than the last time,&8221; he said. &8220;I threw in that first one and had a real bad outing. (The Tech game) was the first time (to pitch) in two weeks. Once I get out there and get in a rhythm, it&8217;ll come to me. The end of last season I started the first game of conference and in the regional, but I&8217;ve got to focus on this year.&8221;

It&8217;s the job of Palmer and pitching coach Rod Berry to get him back in a groove. The curveball, Palmer noted, may be the pitch that Bowden is really struggling to get over the plate consistently, something that wasn&8217;t much of an issue last season.

In 73 2/3 innings last season, Bowden struck out 71 and walked 34. In 3 1/3 innings this season, he&8217;s walked six.

&8220;We filmed him and worked with him. I don&8217;t know,&8221; Palmer said. &8220;I think he&8217;s just going to have to repeat his delivery better. He&8217;s not doing that. He&8217;ll throw one good pitch and two bad ones. He&8217;s having real trouble with his breaking ball. You can&8217;t sit there and pump fastballs in this league. But he&8217;s trying to work through it. Hopefully we can get him back where he was.&8221;