Young Pitcher Getting Job Done for Tigers

Freshman lefty Daniel Koger is pitching like a veteran for the Auburn baseball Tigers.

Auburn, Ala.--Week after week lefty Daniel Koger has made quality starts on the mound for the Auburn baseball team.

Finally, after going for more than a month without picking up a victory, the freshman from Huntsville earned his second collegiate win in the rubber game of a three-game series vs. Mississippi State on Sunday. That put Auburn in first place in the SEC West at 6-3 going into a series this weekend at Alabama.

With normal run support the freshman pitcher could easily have five or more wins this season from his seven starts, but the eight runs his teammates scored in his seventh start were out of the norm and helped the Tigers cruise to a comfortable victory over the Bulldogs.

Koger did his part by allowing two runs on six hits in six innings pitched. For the season he has allowed just 36 hits in 42 2/3 innings.

"It is great pitching with a lead," says the former Huntsville High star. "You can't ask for more than. When your team gives you a lead you are able to settle down and you don't have to nit-pick around the zone. You can focus on throwing strikes and let them put it in play and let the defense work."

Koger was named Mr. Baseball in the state of Alabama as a senior last year. Effective with a fastball that climbs into the low 90s with good movement as well as a curve ball and a change-up, he dominated high school hitters and is having a lot of success as a college freshman against older and more experienced players.

"I don't really look at age as an excuse for not pitching well,"?he says. "It is all irrelevant now at this stage. You just have to be able to focus on throwing in the strike zone, trust your stuff and let the defense work behind you and trust the offense to score some runs."

Koger notes his favorite pitch is the old No. 1. "I love my fastball," he says. "I love putting it where I want it and I love it when it is moving the right way. When it is moving good it feels really good.

"Moving it down and away to a righty it is unbelievable how many ground balls you can get," he points out. "There are a lot of diving swings, a lot of popups. It really sets up the other pitches if you have got that working. If you have more than one pitch working it makes the day easier for you."

What is Koger's second favorite pitch?

"It flip-flops every day between the curve ball and the change-up," he says. "If you can get three going your day gets much easier."

Koger has been playing baseball since he started throwing with his dad when he was a pre-schooler. His focus on pitching came much later.

"I really didn't start with pitching big-time until around high school," the Auburn freshman says. "I played positions and on the mound. When I got around my junior year, the summer before that, it really kicked off for me."

Koger could have played at a variety of colleges. He notes that he is glad he decided to chose Auburn. "It is a great place to play," he says. "I love it."

Commenting on why he picked the Tigers, he says, "It was the coaches and the facilities. I loved the guys I met here. Overall, it is a great place. I love the town, I love the fans, I love everything about it."

Koger is shown in action pitching for the Tigers.

A considerable number of baseball players are superstitious and Koger says he is one of them. "I am real superstitious with certain things I do," he says. "I won't walk in the dugout with my glove on."

Prior to his first college win in Tucson, Ariz., in February, he bought a small stuffed toy at a gift shop, which he puts on the dugout guard rail prior to games.

"His name is Zona," the lefty says. "I bought him in the airport on the way to Arizona for about five bucks. He is a little tiger. He sits there on the top shelf for good luck where the players put their gloves. He is watching over us during the games bringing us some luck."

Koger's coach attributes the freshman's early success to his combination of talent and confidence in what is going to happen when he throws a baseball.

"The biggest thing is he has got a lot of poise," Pawlowski says. "You can coach some of the physical things and the mechanics, and teach them how to pitch and those things, but it is tough to take a young freshman like he is and teach him about composure and poise. He has got a lot of those intangibles out there."

Some freshmen struggle when making the move up to collegiate baseball. So far that has not been the case with Koger.

"You never know how they are going to react when you put them in that situation out there," Pawlowksi says. "He thrives in it. He loves to be out there and he has done a really good job for us."

Koger says he is seeing his team develop confidence as the season progresses. "The sky is the limit for us," he says. "If our offense is clicking, and we are playing solid defense, I think our pitching is going to be real good this year.

"Our bullpen has been doing really well lately," he adds. "We had a rough start to the season and got off a little bit slow. We just couldn't find that big hit in a game, but we are starting to find that and once we do that we can go as far as we want."


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