The 12th-ranked Auburn Tigers (24-11, 6-6 SEC) take on the Alabama Crimson Tide (22-13, 4-8) for a three-game series and will likely do so without third baseman Ben Maitland while shortstop Chuck Jeroloman and catcher Josh Sullivan are hoping to play after being injured in last weekend's series against Ole Miss. Coach Steve Renfroe said at this point there's not much to do but put your best guys on the field and play ball.
"Jeroloman, we think, will be able to go," Renfroe said. "Sullivan did have a workout for the first time yesterday (Wednesday) and we'll see how he does on Thursday and how he feels on Friday. He hasn't been behind the plate so we don't know what will happen there. Maitland is doubtful.
"We're still trying to figure that one out," Renfroe said about Maitland's replacement. "We'll spend some time today (Thursday) walking through that one. I'm not sure right now."
Chuck Jeroloman should be ready to go this weekend for the Auburn Tigers.
The most likely candidate to fill Maitland's spot at third base is sophomore Kyle Mayo. The Vestavia Hills native is hitting just .063 in 16 plate appearances this season, but has one home run and three runs batted in. Renfroe said that freshman Travis Coleman from New Orleans would also get some work at third just in case he's needed over the weekend.
On the mound Auburn will continue with the same rotation that has been a staple since SEC play began. True freshman Mike Felix will get the ball on Friday night and will be looking for a better outing than in recent weeks. The left-hander enters the weekend with a 2-2 record and an ERA of 4.97. Saturday junior lefty Arnold Hughey is going for his sixth win of the season. A consistent starter, Hughey has eaten up innings in his last few outings and is 5-1 with a 4.34 earned run average this season.
Sunday, sophomore Josh Bell takes the mound and he has been brilliant in his role as a starter this season. Currently 2-0 with a minuscule 1.27 ERA, Bell has allowed just 12 hits in 28 1/3 innings. Out of the bullpen junior college right-hander John Madden is becoming a key player in his role as a set-up man for closer Steven Register. In his last five outings Madden has allowed just six hits and one run in 10 2/3 innings. For the season Madden is 1-0 with a 1.40 ERA.
"He's come on," Renfroe said of Madden. "He's really the number one set-up guy. He's been kind of like Levale (Speigner) last year where when we felt it was real important in the fifth or the sixth we used him to get to Reggie. If it was later we used him as a set-up guy. We think he's really come on. I think he's legit, I really do. I think he's proven that. We feel good with him down there."
At the plate the Tigers continue to be led by center fielder Clete Thomas. With an average of .338, he leads the team in several categories including his 19 stolen bases in 22 chances. Coming on strong is right fielder Ben Sprague. The junior is hitting .289 with one home run and 15 runs batted in, but had three hits in Tuesday night's loss to South Alabama.
Also coming on like gangbusters are juniors Tug Hulett and Sean Gamble. Hulett has raised his average to .265 and has six hits in his last 13 at-bats. The same is true of Gamble, who is up to .264 and had a five-hit night against USA.
"We're down anyway and now we're down more, so we really need them to pick it up the rest of the way," Renfroe said. "The one thing about those guys is that I really believe that they're hitters and I believe that they're the kind of guys that could go on a six or seven week tear. They are that kind of guys."
The Auburn hitters will face one of the top staffs in the league when they go against Alabama. Led by freshman Wade LeBlanc, who gets the nod on Friday night, the Crimson Tide has a team ERA of just 2.83. LeBlanc has been the best of the bunch this season with a record of 5-2 and an earned run average of 1.95 in 64 2/3 innings. He has given up just 48 hits and struck out 60 while walking 14.
Saturday's starter is also a freshman. Coming on strong lately, Brandon Belcher has been solid for Alabama this season with a record of 3-3 and an ERA of 3.31. He is averaging a strikeout per inning. Sunday's starter is not determined, but Alabama has plenty of options to choose from.
Two familiar names who will likely see some mound time are Brent Carter and Taylor Tankersley. Carter has started eight games this season and is 5-3 with a 4.30 ERA. Tankersley has been the bullpen ace for Alabama, but has three starts on the season. He is 1-2 with a 2.00 earned run average. Renfroe said the match-up against Alabama's staff is a tough one for his team.
"We're going to face probably one of the top three pitching staffs in the league," Renfroe said. "I know they are awfully proud of those pitchers. They've stopped everybody and our strength has not been hitting. It should be a great challenge and it's interesting how the match-ups go. They are awfully deep on the mound in left-hand pitching and their numbers are as good as South Carolina and Ole Miss. We're looking forward to the challenge."
At the plate Alabama is led by veteran Allen Rice. Hitting .345, Rice leads the team in hits, runs and stolen bases. Perhaps the biggest offensive threat in terms of power will be third baseman Evan Bush. The Gadsden native is hitting .301 with six home runs and 22 runs batted in.
First baseman Zac Welch is also a threat at the plate, hitting .292 with four home runs and 24 RBI. As a team Alabama is hitting .277 with 24 home runs.
The first pitch on Friday is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at Sewell-Thomas Stadium. Saturday's game is set for 4 p.m. while Sunday's start is for 2 p.m. Sunday's game will be televised live by Comcast Sports Southeast.