O'Neal Headed To The Bullpen For Tigers

Senior Michael O'Neal will move to the bullpen for Auburn this weekend with sophomore Trey Wingenter getting his first start of the season on Sunday.

Auburn, Ala.--Coming off a win to get things back on a positive note Tuesday night, the Auburn Tigers (4-4) will take on Presbyterian College (4-3-1) in a three-game series this weekend at Plainsman Park. Continuing to shake things up trying to find the right combination for his team on the mound and in the field, Coach Sunny Golloway said this weekend he wants to look at another starting pitcher to see if that will help solidify things in the bullpen.

Senior Dillon Ortman (2-0, 0.69 ERA) will continue in his Friday night role for the Tigers with freshman Keegan Thompson (1-0, 0.64) moving up to Saturday. The change comes with Michael O'Neal moving to the bullpen with big sophomore Trey Wingenter moving in to the Sunday role for the Tigers.

"What I want to do is that we've got (Daniel) Koger as a left-hander in the bullpen, but as I look at it, if I were an opposing coach, I would be able to stack my left-handed lineup if I could. Looking back I think that has been a little bit of a problem for us. We've gotten hurt a little bit there and we want to be able to counter if the time is right with a left-hander both in long relief and short relief.

"I think Koger gives us the opportunity to match left-on-left for a hitter or two," he added. "O'Neal gives us the chance, if you stack that left-handed lineup and you get to one of our right-handed starters, we'll just come with him and he's like a starter. Where are you going to go? Are you going to switch it up a little bit? If you do then we can come back with Koger. Right now it's a strategy move because we need another left-hander out of the bullpen."

Currently 0-2 on the season despite pitching well in both starts, O'Neal has an overall ERA of 4.09 in 11 total innings this season and hasn't been given a single run of support in his two starts. In his place goes Wingenter. A big sophomore, he has thrown just one inning this season and allowed a hit with two strikeouts.

Trey Wingenter

Wingenter is getting the first crack at being in the weekend rotation, but Justin Camp and Kevin Davis are also two possibilities to fill that role if he doesn't get the job done. There is no question however that Thompson's performance so far this season has given Golloway the flexibility to make the move because of what the freshman has delivered so far.

"Keegan will move up," Golloway said. "He has thrown really well. It kind of allows us to do it. If Keegan had not thrown so well on Sunday I might not had felt so comfortable moving out of there because O'Neal hasn't thrown bad. He's thrown really good, we just haven't given him run support."

A player that has shown the ability to recover well, O'Neal could throw multiple times on a weekend if needed because of his style of pitching. That's a big plus for the move according to senior catcher Blake Austin, but he said as much as anything having someone like O'Neal in the bullpen should pay off in other areas as well.

"I think it's big for our bullpen guys in general," Austin added. "I think just his presence down there, he's an older guy and knows how to take control of the younger guys. He can help guys figure out what hitters are up and what guys need to be doing and what kind of pitches to throw. Mike is a good guy. He's not going to worry about starting or relieving or closing or anything like that. He's just going to help us win, whatever it takes."

The Tigers will take on a Presbyterian squad whose only losses have been to South Carolina, Clemson and Wofford this season. Hitting .270 as a team with a 3.55 team ERA, the Blue Hose will be a challenging opponent for an Auburn team hoping to put a tough week behind them and build on Tuesday's win.

With a pair of teammates (Patrick Savage and Chase Williamson) deciding their heart was no longer in the game and another (Hunter Kelley) dismissed from the team on Sunday, the Tigers have rallied the troops and so far the results have been positive. Golloway said he's been happy with how the team has responded to a tough situation and he added that sometimes you have to make tough decisions for the good of the program.

"All of the guys know that we love them and we care for them," Golloway said. "It seems like an awful lot of energy and time has gone into the actions of the past week. I think it's important to note that two of the young men felt they couldn't give 100 percent. We ended with them on ‘we love you and hope you come around the ballpark'. They played in the program so they're going to be alumni. They made the decision that they couldn't give 100 percent based on their time or what was going on with their lives. You could see that and feel that with maybe even more than those two.

"There had to be a decision with every individual, ‘I'm going to start giving 100 percent or I'm going to go ahead and do something else'. What we're seeing is that we're getting better effort out of the guys that are here. That's really good for us. The other one has been pretty negative, and that's disappointing, but it won't be from our side. We're not going to talk about why what dismissal came. It's a violation of team policy to act or behave a certain way and we're going to move on down the road. I'm not here to bash or hurt student-athletes. It has been a tough week for me. I have never had to do anything like that. I care about all those kids."

Game times for the weekend series against Presbyterian are 6 p.m. on Friday, 3 p.m. on Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday.

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