Auburn, Ala.--Heading into the biggest series of the year for the No. 10 Auburn Tigers as they face off against SEC-leading and 14th-ranked Arkansas, they may be without sophomore pitcher Casey Mize, said Coach Butch Thompson.
Dealing with fatigue issues last week in a start at Tennessee and held out of his bullpen sessions this week, Mize (6-1, 1.23 ERA) has been a workhorse for the Tigers the last month of the season and because of that Thompson said they’re going to be cautious with him moving forward after he felt some tightness in his forearm in Knoxville.
“Whenever we send a guy up to the mound, we want him to attack with everything he’s got,” Thompson said. “He’s done so much work for us that I think we’ll take our time and make sure to check in with him on our throwing. We’ll start this weekend with Keegan (Thompson) back in on Friday and Davis Daniel in on Saturday, then we’ll go TBA for Sunday as of right now.”
Throwing 113 pitches at Texas A&M and 120 the week before in a win over South Carolina, Mize threw 82 pitches last week in a win at Tennessee. That was the first time since Feb. 25th against Holy Cross that he threw less than 90 pitches in a start. The wear and tear that creates is something that Thompson said they want to relieve him of this week and let his arm recover even though they got a clean bill of health from Dr. James Andrews on Wednesday.
“I would say it’s the same exact scenario that we’re running with Keegan a few weeks ago and trying to do the right thing for our players all the time,” the coach said. “When these boys are competing so hard, it’s like, ‘hey, I think I’m good today, Coach,’ but I’m going to make sure before I put him back out there. With giving him a few days to calm down and then the uncertainty of him throwing and making sure everything’s good to go, I think it’s the right play, the safest play for this young man.
“Right now, outside of him, we’ve got Keegan going back full speed and feeling good, and the other 32 players on our roster that can be on that 27-man are good to go. You can do everything right and have some injuries, but we’re a pretty healthy club right now. I just think it’s uncomfortable to send him back out without seeing him throw a bullpen on his normal days. That makes me think of what’s the right thing for our club this weekend without looking too far down the road with what’s best for him right now.”
With Mize unlikely to pitch this weekend it means the Tigers will need more from relievers Cole Lipscomb, Andrew Mitchell, Calvin Coker, Daniel Robert and Ryan Watson against the Razorbacks. As to whether or not it will change how Auburn approaches games this weekend, Butch Thompson said they’ll treat it just like they did against South Carolina when Keegan Thompson missed a start.
“I would say doubtful," Thompson said of Mize's availability. "I think just liked we talked about when Keegan missed the start against South Carolina, if we had a chance to win a ball game we would use, Cole Lipscomb comes to mind, Andrew Mitchell comes to mind, Coker comes to mind. I still think Daniel Robert, those are the four bullpen pieces that if we have a chance to win a game, we'll use them.
“We'll make a better decision once we play the first two games. If we hadn't had an opportunity to use one or two of those, going TBA Sunday allows us to draw who we think is the next best man up. That will be more clear after game two than on Thursday.”
Much like he did with Keegan Thompson earlier in the season, Butch Thompson said he’s not going to risk Mize’s future for one start no matter how important that is. Putting the health and well-being of his players ahead of the team and program is something he believes will pay off down the road for the Auburn Tigers.
“I hope instead of announcing it publicly that everybody sees the decisions that we make on a daily basis and how we treat our student athletes and the product we try to put on the field and the kind of experience of telling our story about Auburn,” he said. “I hope people can see it from our actions. That means a lot more than words sometimes. Hopefully our actions build trust with people that we’re sincere about taking care of our guys and developing them all the time. I think that’s what we’re doing in this case.”
Game times for the weekend series are scheduled for 6 p.m. on Friday, 1 p.m. on Saturday and 3 p.m. on Sunday. Sunday’s game can be seen on the SEC Network.