Thompson Out As Auburn Braces For LSU

Auburn will be without freshman ace Keegan Thompson after he broke a bone in his foot during Sunday's loss at Kentucky.

Auburn, Ala.--Facing an LSU team fresh off a 27-run performance on Tuesday night and likely needing a series win to make it to the postseason is not the most ideal time to have one of your best pitchers on the shelf, but that's exactly where Auburn (28-25, 10-17) finds itself this weekend with freshman sensation Keegan Thompson out for the rest of the year with a broken bone in his foot.

Cruising through the first half of Sunday's game against Kentucky, Thompson was hit on the foot by a ball in the fifth inning. Although he wound up pitching into the sixth before giving way to the bullpen, Auburn's doctors discovered a broken bone in his right foot that brought his year to a close with a record of 5-3 and an ERA of just 2.08.

"It was just one of those breaks," Coach Sunny Golloway said of the injury. "It's a tough break for our club. It kind of let the air out of it (Sunday's loss). We had a chance to still score with the game tied 5-5. We wound up losing the game and arguably one of the best freshmen in the country.

"He will heal up in the summer and be fine," he added of Thompson. "He won't pitch this summer and he an option because the Team USA guys were talking to me, but he's thrown so many innings that he doesn't need to go out there and pitch. He can pitch for Team USA next year and that would be right before his draft year which would be more important."

The good news for Golloway is that the Tigers still have senior Dillon Ortman in a starting role. Up for the Gregg Olson Award presented to the "Breakout Player of the Year" in college baseball, Ortman enters the weekend series against LSU (37-14-1, 14-11-1) with an overall record of 9-3 with a 2.01 ERA in 13 starts. In SEC play he has gone at least seven innings in all nine starts, compiling six wins and an earned run average of just 1.83.

Dillon Ortman has been Mr. Consistent this season for the Tigers

Expected to get the call in game two on Friday night is senior Michael O'Neal. Despite a struggle against UAB on Tuesday night when he walked three and hit two in just two and one/third innings, Golloway said he saw some things to like out of the left-hander and likes the matchup against the LSU team coming in.

"I know it didn't look like he was at his sharpest, but as he said coming over he struck out two guys on change-ups and that's not something he's done all year," Golloway said. "He felt more confident throwing his changeup and felt more confident throwing his breaking ball. We force-fed it and we did give up a few runs force feeding it. I'll be the first one to admit it and I told him that.

"What is happening is that they are finally getting their timing off Michael in the third, fourth and fifth innings, so he's got to show a mix in there," he added. "He's doing that. I know he's won the other way conventionally but I think against the club coming in and them being such a good fastball hitting club he's got to mix well. That was our plan."

With Ortman and O'Neal expected to get the start in the first two games against LSU, the third game could be up in the air until Saturday. With names such as Reid Carter, Daniel Koger and Justin Camp all possibilities, the name to watch may be senior center fielder Ryan Tella. Coming off an impressive outing in just his second career outing on the mound, Golloway said Tella is definitely an option this weekend.

"He's a possibility to do both," Golloway said of Tella starting or coming out of the bullpen again. "It's crazy. Kentucky is one of the most offensive teams in the league and in that small ballpark with the bases loaded, he comes in and and strikes out three guys in a row. I haven't seen anything like it. He's a bulldog. He might get drafted as a pitcher if some people see him because his mentality is so different as a pitcher. He's like a whole different person. It's not that he's not a good baseball player, but he's a bulldog on the mound."

Getting adjusted to life as a pitcher now, Tella was used strictly as a designated hitter in Tuesday night's win to give his arm a little more rest in preparation for this weekend. Even so he said that despite throwing nearly four innings on Sunday his arm felt good because of all the throws he gets daily as a position player.

Now with the possibility of being on the mound in one of the biggest games of the season and possibly his last game in an Auburn uniform, Tella said if he's called on by Golloway he'll be ready.

"I'll take the ball," Tella said. "I have done it. If you look back in high school I beat Mark Appel. I pitched against Stephen Piscotty from Stanford and he signed for 1.54 (million) as a hitter. I faced him and also J.R. Graham. He's in Triple A and throws 101 MPH. I have toed the rubber against the best. I'll take the ball against anyone. I'm not scared."

Game times for the weekend series are scheduled for 6 p.m. on both Thursday and Friday with Saturday's game set for 1 p.m.

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