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Friday, March 19, 2010

Auburn gears up for start of SEC baseball season

While everyone is no doubt focused on the NCAA basketball tournament right now and more than eager to announce their bracket status after one day (I went 11-5 with one Sweet 16 team, Georgetown, bowing out -- as if you care), the blog will take this moment to remind you that the SEC baseball season gets underway tonight.

Auburn (11-5) travels to Georgia (8-9) for a three-game series starting tonight. Here are the pitching matchups, with Auburn's pitcher listed first:
  • Friday: LHP Cory Luckie (0-0, 7.45) at RHP Michael Palazzone (3-1, 7.85)
  • Saturday: LHP Cole Nelson (3-0, 3.74) at RHP Justin Grimm (1-1, 5.40)
  • Sunday: TBA at RHP Jeff Walters (0-1, 8.83)
Also, here's the story I wrote for today's paper, which touched on Auburn, Georgia and Alabama. And if you'd like to follow the blog on Twitter, we'd love to have you. Click here to follow.

Since I didn't have much room to write about Auburn specifically, here are a few bonus quotes from coach John Pawlowski's press conference from Thursday:

(Do you think the series against No. 2 Arizona State will help in the long run, despite your team getting swept?)
"I think it was great. I think it was an eye-opener for some of our new guys. When you go on the road and play elite competition like Arizona State, I think it's good for the new guys to realize, hey, there's four or five thousand people out there in the stands and they're all not rooting for the Auburn Tigers, and you're going to have to play through that. Disappointed, obviously, that we didn 't have a chance to come back with one of those wins, but I think you take the positives out of it. I think we handled their pitching pretty good. When I look at their pitching from top to bottom, that was about as good a staff as far as stuff-wise that I've seen in a long time. So there are some definite positives in it. But I also think the positive was regardless of who we play in mid-week, I think it was positive for our guys to gain some confidence and get back on the field and be prepared for the weekend."
(Will you continue to tinker with the pitching staff early in SEC play?)
"I would have in a perfect world like to say that we've got three distinct guys that are head and shoulders above everybody else. We're not there yet. In the preseason, we talked about what our rotation would look like and I said it was probably going to be a little different than it was last year, and certainly we're opening up our first SEC series with two guys that were not in our rotation last year, so I think that's kind of, to follow through with that, not by design. But Cory Luckie, I thought he pitched well early in the game at Arizona State, pitched well against Davidson. He's done it before, so he's going to get the opportunity to go out there Friday night. I think Friday is a very emotional game. It's a high energy, lot of emotions, excitement, so I think with him being a type of pitcher he is, maybe he can get some guys off guard and get them out in front a little bit. It's hard to hit that soft stuff. And then Cole Nelson, who obviously has been our most consistent starter, and going out to Arizona State, I thought that was an eye-opener not only for him but for everybody. Sometimes things are going real easy and then when you hit a road block or a stumbling block you've got to figure out how you're going to get better. It put everybody kind of in a scrambling mode to try to figure some things out. I think those two guys are going to get the opportunity. You look what Dexter Price and Slade Smith did during mid-week, and that was certainly a positive, regardless of who we played, you still had to throw strikes. You still had to put the ball in the zone. And then you've got Grant Dayton and Jon Luke Jacobs, who have both had flashes of being very good, they just have to be consistent. So we've got some guys to look at, and I definitely think it's going to be tweaked and moved around, maybe move some guys. I hope we settle in, but if not we'll continue to play around with it until we figure out who those guys are."
(You didn't play Georgia last year. What have you seen in your scouting?)
"I think last year, obviously, the numbers they had offensively, they were very good. And they're very good this year even though their record doesn't indicate that. We're going to see power arms. I'm looking at the scouting report, the arm strength these guys have, all three of their starters have plus-plus fastballs. They have high velocity. The biggest thing too is they have a lot of talent. The competition they've played has been great. They're talented and have a lot of arm strength so it will be a great challenge for us in an important weekend. Obviously, you want to get off to a great start and I think it's important for the mindset of our team also. We'll have to go down there and give ourselves a chance to win."
(Do you feel like you're in better shape than you were last year heading into the conference season?)
"I think there's a couple things that are a little different. I think we're more consistent at the plate. Doesn't mean we're going to score more runs. I think we're able to handle different types of pitchers and handle stuff differently from an offensive standpoint. Obviously, being down a man or two, being down Trent Mummey and Justin Fradejas, a little short-handed on that end. I think, overall, top to bottom, we can handle better velocity. Position-wise, it's been kind of a scramble mode putting guys in different positions all over the field. We've played better defensively, I think that's been a result of guys playing different positions. The biggest thing is we have to pitch and play defense. Offensively, I like what we have. Pitching-wise, it's still a concern, which as long as I've been coaching it's always been a concern. it's about making sure we put ourselves in a position to win. Pitching-wise, I think we have more options and I like our bullpen, I like (Auburn Hubbard) down there at the end of the game. He's confident and has an out pitch. It's just starting pitching, we've got to get deeper into the game."
(How healthy is your team?)
"(Brian Fletcher), not playing these last two games certainly helped him. I think it will be a gametime decision tomorrow. I look at three different options: whether he can play left field, whether he can DH, if he can play at all. I have a feeling that he's going to be able to play, I don't know in what capacity. Justin Hargett, I think is going to be hopefully in that same situation. The four days off will help. Of course, Trent Mummey won't be with us. Justin is better now, he is ready to go. I don't know if the hand is 100 percent, but he's cleared and ready to play."

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