Auburn, Ala.--This weekend when the Auburn Tigers (6-7) take on Oral Roberts (6-5), Coach Butch Thompson’s team will be looking to reverse a trend that has seen them score just two runs in the last 35 innings in losses to Troy, Michigan State, Southern Miss and Georgia Tech. With the pitching doing its part to keep the Tigers in games Thompson said it’s just a matter of the offense clicking.
“We feel like we’ve been in every baseball game and we feel like our pitching staff has grown since the beginning of the season,” Thompson said. “We picked a four day span not to swing the bats the way we probably have played prior to those four games. We’ve had two days of practice to go back to the short-term drawing board and simplify and get our stroke back to talk about our approach of what made us successful those first eight or nine games. We’re trying to come back out and do that.”
A player that hasn’t seen his swings do any less damage is leadoff man Anfernee Grier. One of the top players in the SEC and in the country, the junior center fielder is hitting .460 with two home runs and 10 RBI and has already set a career-high with 11 stolen bases. While other players such as Jordan Ebert (.368), Cody Nulph (.333), Niko Buentello (.314) and Josh Palacios (.302) have solid averages this year, it has been a different story the last five games.
Scoring just 10 total runs the last five games, Auburn has a batting average of just .174 over that span. That includes Grier’s .412 clip. Only Blake Logan (.273), Ebert (.238) and Damon Haecker (.214) are even hitting over .200 since that time. Ebert said that’s something that has to change.
“It’s tough coming to the park when you’re pitchers are doing such a good job, that you could have done more,” Ebert said. “We’re kind of not trying to hit the panic button because we know we can hit, but the problem is nobody is really stepping up and picking everybody up. Anfernee is still swinging it, but it’s kind of hard to drive in runs and lead a team from the leadoff spot. He’s doing his job and he’s got guys behind him right now not bringing him in.”
One of the areas that the Tigers need to improve is just in pitch selection said Thompson. With the new staff missing all of fall practice it has been constant catch-up mode for them and the players. That has meant teaching and still working on the basics of Doug Sisson’s offensive style even into the season. Much of that style is built around the freedom to hunt pitches, but Thompson said only if it’s the right one.
“It’s about finding a pitch to hit,” Thompson said. “I know that sounds so simple, but I think if I say our guys have lacked a little confidence what I mean is they’ve gone up there and swung at a pitcher’s pitch or any pitch. It looks like they’ve swung at some pitches out of the hands as the game has gone on.
“Our bats have been better early in the games and to me deteriorated as the game went on,” he added. “I think that’s because they care. I think that’s because they’re trying to force the issue. They’re not necessarily trying to be hero, but they’re trying to do something for the team. That’s away from an approach. Until we get down in the count it’s ‘get a pitch to hit’. I don’t care if one runner or 20 runners are on base you’re not responsible for them, you’re responsible for getting a pitch to hit. That’s what we’ve not done a good job of recently.”
Just in the beginning stages of a brutal schedule that sees the Tigers travel to Georgia Tech next week for a mid-week game before facing Top 10 Texas A&M to open SEC play next weekend, at Arkansas the following weekend and at home against Top 10 LSU in three weeks, Auburn’s offense has to get going and get going in a hurry. Ebert said this team is still very confident that will happen because of the work they’ve put in.
“I think we’ll swing it when it counts,” Ebert said. “Hopefully we’ll get hot at the right time. We’re getting a couple of days of practice to get some swings in again and I think we’re going to be fine.
“It’s going to come and I’m not worried about it,” he added. “It’s just baseball. Sometimes you go out there and can’t find a hole and hit the ball hard at people. I feel like we’ve hit the ball hard 20 times the last five games right at people. If one could just fall in there we might score five or six runs in an inning, you never know.”
This weekend’s game times are scheduled for 3 p.m. on Friday, 2 p.m. on Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday.