Baseball Analysis: Pitching Strong in Week 2

Auburn improved to 6-1 on the season with a potentially tougher week ahead including games against in-state foes Troy and South Alabama.

Auburn, Ala.--Despite a loss to Lipscomb during the week, the Auburn baseball Tigers had another successful run on the diamond with a 3-1 record that included a sweep of UNC Greensboro to close the weekend. After a dominating performance by the Auburn offense the first week of play, in week two it was all about the pitching.

Solid the first weekend, Auburn's pitching was dominant in week two even with the loss. In 39 innings of work, including the 12-inning affair with Lipscomb, Auburn's pitchers allowed just six earned runs and gave up 33 hits for the week. The bullpen was again outstanding for Coach Tommy Slater's club as the group allowed just two earned runs in 17 1/3 innings of work for the four games and gave up just 11 hits.

One of the players who delivered when called upon was sophomore Justin Bristow. Auburn's starting shortstop last season, Bristow was known more for being a pitcher coming out of high school, but couldn't throw last season after pitching too much in high school and summer ball left him with a sore arm. Now back to full strength, he says it's good to get back on the mound and give something to the team.

"Me and Coach (Butch) Thompson have been working pretty hard since we decided I was going to get back on the mound last fall," Bristow says. "I threw pretty well in the fall and when I threw my first time this year we weren't really happy with it. We made some adjustments this week. Me and Scott Shuman were trading some ideas before the game (Sunday) because his fastball is usually there and my breaking stuff is usually there. We just mixed up some ideas and we both pretty it together pretty well."

Justin Bristow should be a quality arm for the Tigers out of the bullpen this season.

That is an understatement after the performance that Bristow and Shuman had on Sunday. Entering the game in the sixth inning the sophomore mowed down UNCG for two perfect innings and then handed the ball off to Shuman. A freshman who is reminiscent of John Madden two years ago for the Tigers in delivery, he also pitched two perfect innings to give the Tigers the sweep and earn his first save of the season.

Another positive for the Tigers on the week was the defense. Although the Tigers made six errors in four games, three came on a very cold and unforgiving Wednesday when even routine plays were tough to make. Auburn's defense saved several runs in the four-game stretch as center fielder Bruce Edwards and left fielder Mike Bianucci both made several diving grabs in key situations. The same is true of freshman second baseman Robert Brooks, who had several highlight-reel plays on the week including a grab in Sunday's game of a line drive that would have made Michael Jordan proud.

Brooks floats back to the ground following his circus catch. (Todd Van Emst Photo)

While the pitching and defense improved the offense took a step backwards. After scoring 38 runs in the first three games of the season and hitting a robust .396 as a team, Auburn hit just .314 in the four games last week and scored a total of just 20 runs. Following up his huge first weekend, Josh Donaldson was just 4-12 on the week with two RBI and no home runs.

Unfortunately his numbers were among the best on the team as the Tigers struggled to get anything going offensively. Bianucci had a solid week at the plate with five hits in 16 at-bats and five RBI. His hit total and RBI total led the team for the week in both categories. Brooks tied Bianucci in hits with five and also had 16 at-bats for the week. The Enterprise native went hitless on Sunday though to end his hitting streak at six games. Fellow freshman Ross Smith couldn't keep up his hot pace as he went just 3-17 for the week with two RBI.

Veteran Bruce Edwards bolted to a hot start in 2007 but cooled off in week two as he went just 3-15 with all three hits coming in the series opener against UNCG.

Mike Bianucci had a solid week for the Tigers with five RBI in four games.

Those numbers must improve this week as the Tigers face a tough Troy team on Tuesday at 3 p.m. before hitting the road to Mobile for the Coca-Cola Classic at South Alabama. Auburn will face Jacksonville at 2:30 Friday afternoon, Michigan State at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday and host South Alabama at 2:30 on Sunday. Slater says the week begins with a Troy team that will give his team a tough battle.

"Troy is good," Slater says. "Bobby (Pierce) has done a wonderful job. They had the best club in school history last year and had a lot of success. They won the Sun Belt. I like my guys. We look forward to playing everybody. It's always a challenge. We'll run Taylor (Taylor Thompson) out there to the mound. He'll start and with the depth we have in the bullpen we'll have guys like (Brett) Butts, and (Chris) Dennis, and (Luke) Greinke who should all be fresh and ready to go. Austin Hubbard should be ready to go as should Johnny Thompson. It's nice going into a midweek game knowing we're not scrambling for arms."

Top Weekend Performer: Paul Burnside was outstanding as he jumped back into the starting rotation and showed why he was rated as the number three prospect in the Valley League over the summer.

Biggest Surprise: Auburn was able to win three out of four games last week without the benefit of a home run and averaging just five runs per contest. Last season the Tigers would have been fortunate to win twice in that scenario and likely could have finished 1-3. An improved pitching staff and defense give this team a better shot to win close games.

Top Pitcher: Since Burnside has taken player of the week honors then I'll go with freshman Scott Shuman here. In five innings of relief for the week Shuman allowed just one unearned run and struck out five while walking just one.

Most Improved: The easy call here is Justin Bristow. After giving up 10 hits and six earned runs in just four and one/third innings against Hofstra, Bristow threw two perfect innings of relief on Sunday and showed why he was considered first round talent as a pitcher coming out of high school in Virginia.

Auburn's Stock Report: The Tigers hold steady in week two after winning three of four, but showed signs of vulnerability on offense. This week's tests against Troy and in Mobile should tell more about this Auburn team heading into the showdown with Arizona State in two weeks.


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