Tigers Hope Pitching Change Provides Spark

A change in the starting rotation is in order as Auburn takes on Georgia in a big SEC series for both teams.

Auburn, Ala.--After a sweep at the hands of LSU last weekend, the Auburn Tigers find themselves in a deep hole with just two weeks remaining in the SEC regular season. Now two and a half games behind Mississippi State for eighth place and a spot in the conference tournament, Auburn (22-28, 9-15) is looking for a strong finish and that must begin against the league's hottest team in Georgia (31-16, 13-11).

Coming off consecutive weekend sweeps of Florida and South Carolina, the Bulldogs have put themselves in position for the postseason after struggling early in the season to put things together. With veterans both in the field and comprising the pitching staff, Auburn's Tommy Slater said it has been no surprise to him to see Georgia finishing strong.

"They're very talented," Slater said. "I actually picked them in the preseason for Baseball America as my sleeper team for Omaha this year because I knew the talent they had returning. If you look around that team so many of their guys were on that 2004 College World Series and SEC Championship team. What I've seen, just watching the film I've seen so far, is that they're really swinging the bats well right now.

"They swung them very well against South Carolina and very well against Florida the week before. They've got quality pitching too…the thing that stands out more than anything is that they've got good players. That's why Butch Thompson is here now."

Auburn catcher Josh Donaldson has thrown out 44 percent of would be base stealers this season.

Knowing his team likely needs five wins in its last six games and possibly needing all six to make it to Hoover, Slater and his coaching staff decided to swap things up this weekend with the starting rotation and insert talented freshman Paul Burnside into the mix as the Friday night starter.

Coming out of the bullpen exclusively this season, Burnside has been dominant in SEC action for the Tigers. In eight relief appearances the Montgomery native has allowed just 13 hits in 25 1/3 innings and hasn't allowed an earned run during that stretch. His current streak is the longest Auburn streak dating back to 1981 and Slater said this weekend they want Burnside to continue being aggressive on the mound because that's what got him to this point.

"We decided to give Paul Burnside his first start Friday night," Slater said. "He's been throwing the ball very, very well out of the bullpen. We decided that because he's been throwing the ball well out of the bullpen, and it hasn't been in one or two inning stints, sometimes it has been five innings. As well as he's thrown it we just decided to go ahead and get him out there.

"We had stayed with the same rotation for a long time," Slater said. "Through the month of April we had made that work to a degree. After getting swept last weekend we decided it was time to change things up a little bit. We're going to keep Crawford (freshman Evan Crawford) on Saturday after using Paul as a starter on Friday. He's earned it. He's thrown extremely well. I'm excited about seeing him make his first start."

Sunday is when things may be a little different for the Tigers as junior Chris Dennis has been the normal Sunday starter, but this weekend the game is listed as TBA. The reason for that is that from now on every game is crucial for Auburn and Slater said they may have to use Dennis in relief if it means the difference between winning and losing on Saturday. Because of that it could be a staff game on Sunday if that's what it takes.

"It still may be Chris," Slater said. "He felt really good yesterday after his outing on Sunday. Obviously taking Paul out of the bullpen weakens our bullpen significantly. We've got to try to win each game. The thought there is that if Chris feels good and can handle it and we needed him to throw in relief on either Friday or Saturday to help us win a game, then we would use him in that role."

Game times for the weekend series are 7 p.m. on Friday, 4 p.m. on Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday. The final game can be seen live on Comcast Sports Southeast.


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