Auburn, Ala.--Needing to turn things around in the Southeastern Conference, the Auburn Tigers (15-18, 3-9) take on Tennessee (14-19, 3-9) in a three-game series beginning Thursday night at Plainsman Park and when they do they’ll have a different pitching rotation than we’ve seen at any point this season.
With the Vols featuring several quality left-handed hitters, Coach Butch Thompson will send junior Ben Braymer to the mound on Thursday night with senior Justin Camp on Friday and sophomore Andrew Mitchell on Saturday. Surrounding Camp with a pair of lefties, Thompson said it was just time to give Cole Lipscomb a break and see how he responds out of the bullpen.
“They’ll present a lot of left-handers and some right-left combos and we kind of shortened Cole last week because of the Thursday-Friday-Saturday,” Thompson said. “Now this is our second consecutive Thursday-Friday-Saturday which is a full week of rest, but we would like for Cole to get a little bit of a break and help us a little more in the bullpen. We’re always trying to put our guys in the best spot to have success.”
Offensively, Auburn is hoping for the return of left fielder Josh Palacios to the lineup to see if that would spark the Tigers at the plate. Batting .408 with five home runs, 23 RBI and 12 stolen bases, Palacios has been a big reason why Auburn’s offense has been one of the most productive in the league this season. Out the last three games with a sprained wrist, Palacios will be a gametime decision.
Leading the way for Auburn’s offense is junior center fielder Anfernee Grier. Batting .421 with seven home runs, 27 RBI and 16 stolen bases, Grier leads the nation with 61 hits and has reached base in 32 of 33 games and has a hit in 31 of those.
The Vols will counter with a trio of left-handers on the mound with sophomore Aaron Soto (3-1, 4.78) getting the call on Thursday, fellow sophomore Zach Warren (4-3, 2.92) working on Friday and senior Andy Cox (2-3, 6.54) finishing off the series on Saturday.
With an opportunity to win its first series in conference play, Auburn goes into the weekend trying to shore up some of the problems that have surfaced on and off for much of the season. That includes a defense that has committed 51 errors in just 33 games. Thompson said those kinds of mistakes are the ones they have to clean up if this group wants to get over the hump.
“We’ve got to just keep fighting and giving ourselves a chance to win the series,” Thompson said. “We thought last weekend, we really wanted to move as a program. Our players and coaches really wanted to find a way to win the series. We just keep going back to the drawing boards. I told the guys and I started with our staff on Monday that we need to be great models for these guys and not critics. That’s important for us to do as a coaching staff and for our players to hear us say that.
“Then we had to look each other in the eye also and tell each other that we’ve got to be more fundamentally sound if we want to be more competitive in our league. We feel like we’ve matched up pretty good every SEC weekend and we don’t have a series victory to speak of. We know we’ve got to keep growing, keep developing and get more fundamentally sound if we want anything to change. You can’t just snap your fingers and expect something to change, you have to keep working towards that for when your moment comes to be shined upon.”
Game times for the series with Tennessee are scheduled for 6 p.m. on both Thursday and Friday with a 1 p.m. start time for Saturday’s game. Both Thursday and Friday can be seen on SEC Network.