AU Hoping To Register Series Win With Change-up

The Tigers are back in action at Plainsman Park as they begin a three-game series against South Carolina on Friday night.

Auburn, Ala.--There were some changes expected following Auburn's struggles each of the last two weekends in SEC play and that is definitely the case with the starting rotation getting an overhaul that includes inserting All-American reliever Steven Register into the mix.

Auburn's most dominant pitcher much of the last three seasons, Register (6-0, 2.52 ERA, eight saves) has been relegated to watching much of the last few weeks as the Tigers fell behind early and tried to play catch-up with the competition. That won't be the case this weekend as Register will get the start on Sunday against South Carolina with Josh Bell (2-2, 3.38) going on Friday and Arnold Hughey (6-2, 4.58) on Saturday.

Sophomore Chris Dennis (3-0, 3.23) and junior John Madden (1-1, 4.26) will likely move into the closer's role. Register says that he's looking forward to getting the call this weekend in a huge series for the Tigers.

"It's going to be different because usually I come to the field on Friday and Saturday thinking that I have a chance to throw," Register says. "It's going to be different coming to the field this time knowing that I'm not throwing until Sunday. I'm excited and ready to get out there.

"I wish things could have stayed like they were," Register adds. "We talked to a lot of people like Tug (Hulett) and Sean (Gamble) and Chuck (Jeroloman) and we thought that if we were going to go on this was the move we needed to make. It's good knowing that the team wants to do it, too, and not just you and the coach. We just think that if we're going to make the postseason and do what we have to do that will be our best chance."

Currently 9-12 in SEC play after being swept last weekend at Florida, Auburn enters the weekend in ninth-place in the league standings with three weeks remaining. Just ahead of Auburn is South Carolina at 11-10, making this one bigger than normal, says Register.

"This is, without a doubt, the biggest weekend of the year," Register says. "You don't want to say this, but it's kind of do or die. We've put ourselves in a hole after last weekend. We know what we have to do. Now we just have to come out and prove it and prove that we want to keep playing. We have to get the job done."

Chris Dennis

That won't be easy this week for the pitching staff as it faces one of the top offensive teams in the country in the Gamecocks. Hitting .315 as a team, South Carolina has 71 home runs and 106 doubles on the season. Leading the way offensively is catcher Landon Powell. A switch-hitter with power from both sides, Powell is hitting .379 with 13 home runs and 51 runs batted in. A good contact hitter, Powell has struck out just 22 times this season in 174 at-bats.

"He's good from both sides," Renfroe says. "He's smart, he's big and he's strong. He just has a great idea of what he's doing. You can't let him out-guess you. He's just that kind of guy. He's going to get an idea of what you're trying to do to him. You really have to stay a step ahead, but it's really hard to do with him."

Not to be slighted, the Gamecocks have bats up and down the lineup that can do damage at any moment. Brendan Winn is hitting .348 with 13 home runs and 47 RBI while Steve Pearce (.343, 12, 41) and Michael Campbell (.329, 12, 40) are also tough outs for the opposition.

On the mound South Carolina is solid as usual with a team ERA of just 3.34. On Friday veteran Aaron Rawl will take the mound for the Gamecocks. This season he is 9-1 with a 4.12 ERA in 78 2/3 innings.

Saturday and Sunday will have Matt Campbell and Arik Hempy taking the hill and either can get the job done. Campbell is 6-3 with a 3.58 earned run average while Hempy is 3-1 with a 1.82 ERA. Closer Chad Blackwell is 2-3 with a 4.12 ERA and 10 saves this season.

Auburn will have some changes in the field as well as on the mound this weekend as Mike Hyntka will take over the duties behind the plate for Josh Sullivan. Sullivan moves to the bullpen and is expected to see some action against the Gamecocks. At third base Ben Maitland takes over for Kyle Mayo now that he has recovered from an ankle sprain.

Both Friday and Saturday the games will begin at 6:30 p.m. The Saturday evening start is due to final exams on the AU campus. Sunday's game is set for a 1:30 p.m. start. All three will be shown live on Comcast Sports Southeast.

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