Tigers Tangle With Top-Ranked Commodores

Auburn is looking to get back on the winning track in the SEC against #1 Vanderbilt this weekend at Plainsman Park.

Auburn, Ala.--After making sweeping changes for Auburn's mid-week showdown against Troy, coach John Pawlowski will likely continue that this weekend against the top-ranked Vanderbilt Commodores (23-3, 4-2) if his pitching rotation is any indication. Entering the series at 14-10 overall and 2-4 in league play, Auburn is in need of at series win at home to keep pace in the SEC race.

"This is obviously a big test for us this weekend," Pawlowski said. "Vanderbilt has a very talented team. Everyone knows about the talent they have on the mound, but they also have some very good position players that are back. We'll see how we respond. We need to play well this weekend and get some early momentum."

Making his first weekend start and just second this season, junior college transfer Andrew Morris will get the call on Friday night against Vandy ace Sonny Gray as Pawlowski looks for someone to set the tone on the weekend. Currently 1-1 with a 4.32 ERA, Morris was very good in his last outing as he dominated the Jacksonville State Gamecocks on the road, but this time around he'll have his work cut out for him against the Commodores.

"Andrew is throwing the ball well for us," Pawlowski said. "In that start at Jacksonville State I thought he was very efficient with his pitches. I thought he was consistently in the zone. His last outing came in relief on Sunday at Mississippi State and I saw that consistency again. We just felt like it would be a good idea to get him in that rotation. We feel like this weekend is a good opportunity for him to get that Friday night start."

It will be anything but easy for Morris as Gray is one of the top pitchers in the country. With a record of 5-1 and an ERA of just 1.51, Gray has allowed only 22 hits in 41 2/3 innings this season. Pawlowski said the Tigers will face a serious challenge from the preseason All-American selection.

"He's an experienced pitcher," Pawlowski said. "I think you look at what he's done in his career and the teams he has played on and he's very experienced. He's got a tremendous arm. His fastball is very good. Our guys are going to have to be ready to hit a fastball. He throws three quality pitches for strikes. He's a very polished college pitcher."

He's not the only one the Tigers will face this weekend as Vanderbilt enters the series with a team ERA of just 2.29. In 228 innings played this season the Commodores have allowed just 175 hits. On Saturday junior lefty Grayson Garvin (4-1, 2.45) will get the call on the mound while senior Taylor Hill (2-0, 2.76) finishes off the weekend for the Commodores on Sunday.

It's not just the starters that deliver though as closer Navery Moore has been almost automatic this season. In 14 appearances he is 3-1 with a 0.57 ERA and six saves and opponents are hitting just .172 against him. Facing so many quality arms Pawlowski said the Tigers will have to be better on offense than they've been recently to get the job done.

"You look at them and they have arm strength and Pitchability," Pawlowski said. "Runs are going to be tough to come by. We're going to have to find ways to maximize runners in scoring position. When we get guys in scoring position we're going to have to be very efficient at getting guys in."

On the mound Auburn will counter with junior Derek Varnadore (3-1, 3.60) in his usual Sunday spot while the Tigers are listed as TBA on Saturday. With Cory Luckie (1-1, 5.34), Jon Luke Jacobs (1-1, 1.93) and Will Irvin (3-1, 6.12) all with starting experience any could get the call on Saturday, but Pawlowski said all would be available Friday night if needed.

"Friday night we're going to have everybody available with the exception of Derek Varnadore," Pawlowski said. "We just have to have our best available arms ready to pitch on Friday night besides our relievers. If we get in a situation where we need to get somebody out then those guys will all be available. Then we'll figure out who will start on Saturday."

Game times for the weekend series are 6 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday with a 1 p.m. start on Sunday. Saturday night's game will be shown live on CSS and will also be available at ESPN3.com.

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