While the offense was the main story, the sidebar was the performance of Eric Brandon on the mound in his first start since last March. The sophomore allowed just four hits in four innings of work while striking out four Trojan batters. Moved to the closer's role last season out of necessity, Brandon is getting a look at the starting spot because of the performance of Ken Clayton out of the bullpen the first two weeks of the season. Auburn coach Steve Renfroe said that he was pleased with what he saw out of Brandon and it gives him something to work with as the team heads to Clemson for an early test against a Top Five team.
Eric Brandon got his first start of the season Tuesday.
"I thought he was good," Renfroe said. "I thought it was a good work outing. He wasn't the Eric Brandon of last year as a starter but he got the work he needed. His breaking ball was sharp and his velocity was fine. I think he just needs a few more outings to get into shape."
This outing was one without pressure as the Tigers completely dominated Troy State from the opening moments of play. With Brandon cruising early, the Auburn hitters seemed completely at ease heading to the plate and it showed in their performances. Down to the second spot from his normal lead-off role, Javon Moran got things going with one out in the first when he singled sharply off the Troy State third baseman. With the hit-and-run on, freshman Tug Hulett delivered a single through the left side that sent Moran all the way to third and put Troy State starter Marcus Bell in a bind. The bind would become a full-fledge wound when Trent Pratt doubled off the monster in left field to score both runners and give Auburn the 2-0 lead.
The lead would increase thanks to Bobby Huddleston, who continued his hot hitting by singling up the middle to score Pratt. Mike Mueller was up next and he came through with one of his three hits when he drilled a fastball up the middle for a single.
Scott Schade was the next man in line and he also came through, doubling down the right field line to score Huddleston and move Mueller to third. Josh Todd closed the scoring when he lifted a fly ball to right field to plate Mueller with the fifth run of the inning.
Things would go from bad to worse for the Trojans in the second inning as Auburn pounded out five hits and used three Troy State errors to score seven runs. Leading off the inning, Sean Gamble walked but was quickly cut down on a fielder's choice by Moran to once again give Auburn one runner on with one out. Executing the hit-and-run once again, Hulett singled through the left side to push Moran to third.
Pratt continued to drive home the runs as he singled to left to score Moran and make it 6-0 Auburn. Huddleston then singled through the left side and advanced all the way to third on a mis-play by the Troy State left fielder. The error allowed Pratt to score all the way from first and along with Hulett, make the score 8-0.
It would quickly get to 10-0 when Mueller drove a 2-0 fastball deep into the wind in right field for a two-run home run, his third on the season. Back-to-back errors allowed Schade and Schuerholz to reach base setting the stage for Gamble. The freshman drove one deep into the left-center field gap for a triple to score both runners and make it 12-0.
Mike Mueller crosses the plate following his third home run of the season.
"I've been working on some stuff everyday trying to keep my timing where it should be," Mueller said. "Today I stayed back on some off-speed pitches and some fastballs so that was good. If a guy is throwing a lot of off-speed, a lot of breaking balls, then I'll go up there and pretty much eliminate the fastball and just look for the breaking ball. Today the guy seemed to be throwing a little more fastballs to the left-handers so I just went up there and hit it."
Staked to a more than comfortable lead, it was time for Brandon to ease back into the starting gig. Penciled in as Sunday's starter at Clemson, the hard-throwing right-hander said it was a little strange to be back into the starting spot after almost a year of working out of the bullpen.
"I've got a lot of work to do I think," Brandon said. "Not a lot but a little. I have to get more pitches over than just a fastball and a slider. It was weird going out there for more than one or two innings. Once I got past those one or two innings though I started getting more comfortable out there."
The rest of Tuesday's game consisted of emptying the bench for Auburn as 15 position players and five pitchers saw action in the blowout win. Readying for the trip to Clemson, Renfroe used this final tuneup as a chance to see some players in action and he said he was particularly impressed by the play of Doug Vines in the outfield. Going 1-2 on the day, the freshman ran a blazing time to first base to leg out an infield single and that hustle is something Renfroe said he noticed as he walked off Hitchcock Field Tuesday.
The Tigers return to action this weekend when they head to Clemson to face the Tigers for a three-game series. Friday's game is slated for a 2 p.m. CST start with Levale Speigner getting the start. Saturday is at 1 p.m. CST with Colby Paxton on the mound and Sunday at 1:00 CST will be Brandon's turn to shine. Former starter Cory Dueitt will now move to the bullpen while Clayton and Steven Register will vie for the closer's role.