Auburn, Ala.--Heading into a weekend series at Mississippi State, the Auburn Tigers (15-10, 1-5) are looking for a spark with a change in the pitching rotation.
With road trips still left at LSU, South Carolina and Florida following this weekend's visit to Starkville, Coach Sunny Golloway’s team is hoping to put it all together after dropping seven of its last nine games.
Getting the call on Friday night is redshirt sophomore Cole Lipscomb. One of the bright spots for the Tigers this season, Lipscomb is 3-0 with a 2.19 ERA in six appearances with two starts and has struck out 34 batters in just 24 1/3 innings. With Lipscomb on the mound first that moves Keegan Thompson to what was originally his planned spot in the rotation on Saturday.
Currently 4-2 with a 4.10 ERA this year, Thompson has thrown a team-leading 37 1/3 innings this season.
Rounding out the rotation is junior Dalton Rentz. Coming off solid outings last week against UAB and Vanderbilt, Rentz is 1-0 with a 3.43 ERA in 11 appearances this year with one start and takes the place of Rocky McCord after he got the start Tuesday night in a loss at Georgia Tech.
That also means a move to the bullpen for junior Trey Wingenter, a position he is familiar with and something Golloway said he believes makes his staff stronger in the long run with Justin Camp and Izaac Yarbrough also available in relief.
“The reason is Trey’s arm bounces back a lot better that Cole,” Golloway said. “When you go ahead and get Cole going he’s usually going to be good for you, but you’re not going to get him back for a couple of days. We think with Wingenter we could utilize him on Friday behind Cole and utilize him also behind Dalton on Sunday.
“Keegan usually doesn’t need a lot of help so let’s hope that stays true also. Then we have big Campy on the back end, too, and Yarbrough has thrown the ball well from the left side. Rocky (McCord) should be able to bounce back and give us some short help on Saturday or Sunday. That’s our plan for the weekend.
“The way Trey has thrown the ball well for three or four innings, even in relief against Alabama in the Capital City Classic, that gives us confidence that it’s a good role for him to come out of the bullpen. Then the way Dalton has started to really pick it up, he’s pitched well in long relief over the weekend. We think he’s ready to go on Sunday.”
Trey Wingenter's versatility could be important for the Tigers this weekend
Mississippi State will counter with right-handed pitcher Preston Brown (3-2, 3.77) on Friday with right-hander Austin Sexton (3-1, 3.09) on Saturday and lefty Vance Tatum (3-0, 3.26) on Sunday. A deep staff that includes talented reliever Ross Mitchell (3-2, 3.41), the Bulldogs have a team earned run average of 3.70 in 2015, but the number balloons to 6.92 in conference action. Golloway said the Bulldogs present a tough challenge for his team this weekend even though they haven’t had the best of starts in the SEC.
“They have struggled a little bit on the mound, but they are a quality club," Auburn's coach said. "They have got confidence--that’s the thing we’re seeing. Teams that play in the NCAA, and we’ve talked to our guys about this, you’ve got to remember that Mississippi State played in the championship series two years ago. Vanderbilt won the championship series just one year ago.
“That is what you sign up for when you come to the SEC," Golloway added. "They’re going to have guys that were on that team that are going to have that confidence and swag going for them. Their going to be a good team at their place, which they have been. We will have our hands full, but it’s a series we need to go in there and win. We need to go in there and win a series this weekend.”
Coming into the weekend with a record of 18-9 overall but just 2-4 in SEC play, Mississippi State has dropped each of its first two series to Alabama and Kentucky, respectively. Winners of their first 13 games this season, the Bulldogs are just 5-9 since March 1 with only single wins over San Diego, Western Kentucky, Alabama, Eastern Illinois and Kentucky.
Hitting .283 as a team Mississippi State has slumped to an average of just .260 in SEC games despite red hot starts from a pair of players at the plate. With 11 hits in 22 at-bats vs. SEC teams, Jacob Robson has a home run and two RBI so far. Not to be outdone, Reid Humphreys is batting .409 with a pair of home runs and five runs batted in.
Game times for the weekend series are scheduled for 6:30 p.m. CDT on Friday, 2 p.m. on Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday. All three games can be seen on SEC Network+.
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