Following a stretch that saw Auburn drop nine out of 13 games, including series losses to Elon, at Arizona State and at home vs. South Carolina, the Tigers finished strong against the Gamecocks with a Sunday victory. They followed it with a win Tuesday night over Samford. Coach Tommy Slater says it was big for his team to get another mid-week victory before hitting the road to face the Commodores.
The reason for that is simple. Besides the fact that winning has a way of becoming contagious in sports, it's something that the Tigers needed because of the youth both in the field and on the mound. Slater notes that the large group of first-year Auburn players is becoming more comfortable with each passing game and that's something that is part of the learning process for his team.
"As guys become more experienced and get more at-bats and get more innings under their belts--and you're seeing that kind of develop with our guys right now--you're seeing guys that are getting to play more and seeing them fall into a more consistent pattern, be it on the mound or in the plate.
"You've got to invest in your guys," the coach adds. "You've got to give them a chance to succeed. By giving them a chance to succeed you're giving them a chance to fail. Our sport is one of failure. Successful hitters fail seven out of 10 times. We just have to continue to stay positive and work. You can't really focus on the negative aspects, you have to learn from them."
First-year Auburn first baseman Andy Bennett is tied for the team lead with five home runs this season.
Auburn hopes to be full-strength on the mound this weekend as junior Chris Dennis is expected back in the rotation on Friday after suffering from fluid around his lungs that caused him discomfort. Originally thought to be a pulled muscle, medication has helped the problem and he should be ready to go against the Commodores.
The rest of the weekend rotation should remain the same for Auburn as Brett Butts gets the call on Saturday with freshman Evan Crawford getting the start on Sunday. In the bullpen there is a chance that closer Luke Greinke will be back in action after suffering a strained muscle in his throwing shoulder that has kept him on the shelf for almost two full weeks. Slater says that Greinke will be evaluated again before a final decision is made.
For Vanderbilt things are upbeat as the Commodores enter the weekend with a record of 14-7 overall following a 7-0 win over Belmont Wednesday night. Last weekend the Commodores went on the road to win two of three from the Ole Miss Rebels to start the conference season.
Slater says that for Vanderbilt everything begins with starting pitchers Matt Buschman, David Price and Cody Crowell and a staff that has a team earned run average of just 3.08. In 21 games opponents are hitting .221 with just 158 hits in 193 innings this season.
"Buschman is a fourth-year senior and has been in the league," Slater says. "He's a quality, quality right-handed pitcher. Price is a guy that was Team USA as a freshman. He's low to mid 90s as a left-hander with a power breaking ball. That's a guy that is going to pitch for a long, long time after he's done at Vanderbilt. He's one of the best in the country...he's special. Crowell, we're still doing our work on him. He's not a power lefty, but he's a lefty that knows how to pitch.
"Vanderbilt has really, since Tim (Corbin) has been there, if you look at kind of the way they've been built around their pitching, when he got there Sowers and Mullins were there," Slater says. "They did a really good job of helping those kids develop. They've done a really good job of recruiting their pitching. Each year Tim has been there I think you've seen offensively they've continued to improve as well."
Offensively, the Commodores are led by Ryan Flaherty, who is hitting .339 with one home run and 11 RBI on the season. As a team Vanderbilt enters the weekend hitting .278 with 11 home runs and 22 stolen bases.
Game times for the weekend are 6 p.m. CST on Friday, 2 p.m. on Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday. Saturday's game can be seen live on Comcast Sports Southeast.