A few hours before his scheduled start, Bombers pitcher Preston Tarkington was sitting alone in the dugout at Liberty Park. The rest of the Bombers were in the batting cage or taking fielding practice as he sat with a pair of headphones on, mentally preparing to take on Joplin.
For Tarkington, the summer means a return to a starting role after coming out of the bullpen both with the Bombers last summer and in college with Mississippi.
“When you’re a starter, you’ve got some opportunities to do different things,” he said. “The mindset is the biggest change from the starting role to the pen. When you’re in the pen, you might come in with guys on and you need to give it your best stuff right then. When you’re a starter, you’ve got a little more to work with. You’re starting off the game and seeing the best hitters. It’s an adjustment I’ve had to make, but I feel like I’ve made some good adjustments and I feel like I’ve done well.”
With pitchers on last year’s staff like Robert Greco, Kody McFarland and Peter Fairbanks, Tarkington came out of the bullpen. In four appearances with the Bombers, he recorded four saves.
“You go to the pen, it’s a little different,” he said. “The way you prepare for a game is different. You’ve got to be ready to throw every day. You may have thrown the day before and you’ve just got to be ready for anything.”
He spent the spring in the bullpen at Ole Miss, making 19 relief appearances and recording a 1.69 ERA as part of a Rebels pitching staff which included Sam Smith, Chris Ellis and Christian Trent. Smith’s ERA was the highest among the Rebel starters at 3.61. Trent’s ERA was 2.05.
“I was more of a middle relief kind of guy,” Tarkington said. “I’m hoping next year I can get some more innings. Mostly this year I used a lot of breaking stuff and next year I’d like to use my fastball more and command the zone with that and hopefully help the team more.”
With Ole Miss, he was part of a team which went 19-11 in SEC play, facing teams like eventual national champion Vanderbilt. The Arkansas native even threw three scoreless innings against the Razorbacks in the SEC Tournament.
“It’s a great experience,” he said of playing in the SEC. “It’s a learning experience and it’s just something that’s changed my life in a positive way.”
The Rebels also made a trip to the College World Series in Omaha before eventually falling to Virginia. Ole Miss finished third.
“You go up there, it’s baseball heaven,” he said. “You work so hard to get up there. Everything up there is a great experience. It’s something I’ll never forget and hopefully I’ll have a chance to do it again.”
This summer, he’s back for another season with the Bombers and he said it’s great to be back.
“You see a lot of familiar faces and some new ones,” he said. “It’s a good group of guys that just love playing baseball.”
In his first appearance June 28 at Omaha, he pitched two scoreless innings in a win. He was back on the mound in his first start July 4 at St. Joseph, allowing two unearned runs in a loss to the Mustangs.
Wednesday marked his first home start of the summer and he shut down Joplin, pitching seven scoreless innings and allowing five hits while striking out four in a 4-0 Bombers win which saw them take a 1.5 game lead over the Outlaws in the MINK League, South Division standings.
The Bombers’ offense was held scoreless through the first five innings by Joplin’s Garret Stockton before finally breaking through in the sixth. Jess Cartner drew a bases-loaded walk and an Alex Bee sacrifice fly scored Tony Sandifer. Jordan Dey scored on an error and Cody White followed with a double to score Cartner.