Auburn, Ala.--If it's not one thing it's another for the 2007 Auburn Tigers. After playing without standout sophomore Mike Bianucci for two SEC weekends and banged up for two others, the Tigers will likely have to go without top pitcher Paul Burnside this weekend against the top team in the conference after he was diagnosed with a strained bicep this week by team doctor Michael Goodlett.
Dominating in his last three Friday night starts, all victories by the Tigers, Burnside will likely watch from the bench this weekend as the Top 10 Arkansas Razorbacks (33-11, 13-5) roll into Auburn looking to keep a stranglehold on the rest of the SEC. Without Burnside the Tigers (27-17, 6-12) will turn to sophomore Evan Crawford to get the job done on Friday night. Coach Tommy Slater says it will be tough without Burnside but it just means someone else has to get the job done starting with Crawford.
"Not having our number one guy being able to go Friday and on a day-to-day basis with a strained bicep means some other guys will have an opportunity," Slater says. "It is their time to step forward.
"Evan was our best starter last year as a true freshman," Slater adds. "He started the year and his preseason was outstanding. He was going to be our number one. He had some stumbles early and I think he lost some confidence after talking to him. He seems to have that back now. He's had a couple of solid outings in a row out of the bullpen. He threw pretty well at South Carolina and threw real well Sunday against Alabama in relief. He's got great stuff. He always has. Confidence is so much of what this game is. I'm looking forward to seeing him take the mound tomorrow."
Slater describes Burnside's injury as non-baseball and he's hopeful he'll be able to go on Sunday.
Crawford (4-3, 5.28 ERA) will get the call on Friday night with true freshman Taylor Thompson (4-1, 4.34) on the hill on Saturday. Sunday is listed as TBA for the Tigers with Burnside still a possibility along with Bryan Woodall, Justin Bristow and freshman Austin Hubbard.
The Tigers will face an Arkansas team that is loaded with talent and experience across the board. Currently 13-5 in conference play, the Razorbacks score runs in bunches and have the top starting rotation in the league led by Nick Schmidt (8-1, 2.56). Facing the top team in the league, it is not going to be easy for the Tigers to take the series but that's exactly what they need if they hope to stay on target for their goal of averaging two wins per series in the second half of the SEC schedule.
"Each weekend is huge," Slater says. "Obviously this is the one that is in front of us so this one is huge right now. Last week was huge and we took care of business. We just need to continue to take care of business and keep ourselves in a position where we feel like we can get to nine wins in the second half. We've gotten two of them. Let's just keep adding to that total."
Game times for the weekend series against the Razorbacks are set for 6 p.m. on Friday, 2 p.m. on Saturday and 1:30 on Sunday afternoon.