With a record of 17-5 on the season, Auburn has been able to find ways to win on the diamond despite struggling at the plate and at times on the mound. After being shutout in the SEC opener Friday night by the Wildcats, the first time an Auburn team has been blanked at home in 190 games, the Tigers responded by swinging their bats better on Saturday and Sunday. Still they couldn't put many hits together and score a lot of runs, something that this team had been doing up to that point. Coach Steve Renfroe said getting everyone a home and in rhythm is a concern heading into such a tough stretch.
"If you've followed us this year we've not bludgeoned anybody," Renfroe said. "It's been 10 or 11 strikeouts and seven or nine hits, but we have gotten some big doubles and knocked in some runs and scored in some games. We've pitched and played defense. I'm hoping now that we can settle some guys. We just need to. For three weeks there with (Ben) Maitland out we had to move so many guys around. We need to settle both Joshes (Josh Bell and Josh Sullivan) in somewhere along with Derek Sain. Hopefully, that will help us."
With All-SEC first baseman Karl Amonite out for the season along with projected starting third baseman Tyler Johnstone, the Tigers have been juggling the lineups all season. That culminated Sunday in a strange twist as a struggling Sean Gamble moved into the leadoff role with Clete Thomas moving down to fourth in the lineup. Despite doing a good job up front, Thomas' bat in the middle of the order should provide Bell better pitches to hit and improve Auburn's offensive output.
Thomas has been on fire lately and has carried the load for the Tigers all season despite moving up and down the lineup. He currently leads the team in hitting (.361), hits (30), runs (23), stolen bases (13) and doubles (8). Thomas has hit safely in 14 of the last 16 games and has not been thrown out attempting a steal this season. Those numbers in the middle of the order should make for an improved Tiger offense in the weeks to come.
Help is also coming from shortstop Chuck Jeroloman and Sain. An improved hitter coming into the season, Jeroloman had been struggling prior to the Kentucky series, but finished with five hits in his last nine at-bats to have some good energy heading into the road series. Sain had a career-high three hits in Sunday's win and Renfroe said they hope to see more improvement down the road as he gets more involved in the Auburn offense.
"We need him to come on," Renfroe said. "Sunday was a big day. He could be a big plus for us. We'll just keep working him and hopefully he'll get freed up. The more he's out there the better he'll get."
Auburn and UAB continue a series dominated by the Tigers when they get together on Tuesday night. The Tigers have won 12 in a row in the series and 19 of the last 20 between the two schools. Last season Auburn used an NCAA record nine pitchers in a no-hitter against the Blazers. Expect much of the same strategy this time around as Renfroe and company should use a variety of pitchers in preparation for a series at #13 Tennessee this weekend. Both teams have listed starters as TBA, but expect Colby Paxton, Chris Dennis, Mike Nix and Grant Cardwell all to see action in the game and possibly Sullivan as well.