Moving sophomore Bryan Woodall to the pen to strengthen Auburn's relief efforts, the Tigers will send fellow sophomores Paul Burnside and Evan Crawford to the mound on Friday and Saturday with true freshman Taylor Thompson getting the call on Sunday.
With a record of 3-0 on the season, Thompson has pitched well in his mid-week starts to this point but takes a major step up in competition this weekend against the Rebels.
Thompson and the Tigers face an Ole Miss team that is one of the best pitching clubs in the Southeastern Conference this season. Led by starters Lance Lynn (2-2, 2.05), Will Kline (3-1, 2.74) and Craig Rodriguez (1-0, 2.75) along with talented guys such as Brett Bukvich (3-1, 3.32) and Scott Bittle (1-3, 1.59, 7 saves), the Rebels enter the weekend with a team ERA of just 2.88.
Ole Miss has allowed just 202 hits in 204 1/3 innings pitched this season and has walked just 88 hitters while striking out 235.
Things don't get much easier when the Rebels are at the plate as veteran Justin Henry is one of the SEC's best, hitting .461 with 14 stolen bases. The power comes from Andrew Clark (.329, 4 hr, 12 RBI), Cody Overbeck (.314, 6, 18) and Logan Power (.301, 5, 19) while Zack Cozart (.292, 3, 20) and C.J. Ketchum (.273, 1, 10) give the Rebels experience up and down the lineup. Slater says Ole Miss is an all-around good team that can do a little bit of everything.
"They are really strong on the mound," Slater says. "This is a really good pitching staff. Runs will be at a premium this weekend just looking at what they've done the first two weekends in the league pitching-wise. They went to Vanderbilt and had a 10-inning game on Friday night with very few runs scored between (David) Price and Kline. They've just pitched very well. It's the strength of their club.
"They've got Cozart and Henry in the middle of their infield, two veteran guys," he adds. "They are really catching the ball well. It's kind of their thing, pitching and defense. Offensively, if you compare their numbers to ours, we look to be fairly comparable teams."
Robert Brooks is one of a large group of freshmen playing well for the Tigers.
For the Tigers, Josh Donaldson continues the lead the way offensively this season with a .364 average, eight home runs and 34 RBI with Mike Bianucci jut behind him at .347, seven home runs and 27 runs batted in. Senior Bruce Edwards is also having a solid season at .340 with six doubles and 16 stolen bases in 17 attempts. While the veterans have carried the load, a group of freshmen are coming on strong and Slater says all four will continue to be a big part of things for the Tigers because of their production.
Everyday starters Robert Brooks (.314) and Ross Smith (.319) have excelled since inserted into the lineup on opening day but for Joseph Sanders and Dustin Spruill, it has taken some time for them to work their way into the every day plans. Now it appears they have just that. Coming into the weekend, Sanders is hitting .340 with a home run, six doubles and 12 RBI in just 47 at-bats. Spruill is currently at .325 with one home run, four doubles and seven RBI in 40 at-bats. Slater says both have earned the right to play.
"We're just trying to put our best lineup out there," Slater says. "With Spruill and with Sanders, they've really been playing well. When they've been given the opportunity they've done a good job. You do well when you get your opportunity and you're going to keep playing. They are both good players. I don't anticipate taking them out of the lineup anytime soon."
Another change this weekend is that sophomore Luke Greinke will get a chance to wear several different hats for the Tigers as hegets back to his dual role of position player/pitcher while also seeing some time at first base. After being bothered by a tight arm for much of the first half of the season, Greinke pitched two innings on Tuesday against Mercer and Slater says he'll move into the closer's role this weekend along with Chris Dennis.
Freshman Scott Shuman, who has struggled in SEC play, will move to middle relief to try to build some confidence back in his game.
Game times for the weekend are scheduled for 6 p.m. on Friday, 2 p.m. on Saturday and 1:30 on Sunday afternoon. There is no television for the series.