That will be very difficult indeed with the powerful Commodores rolling into town for a three-game series beginning Friday night at 6 p.m. Led by all-american pitcher David Price and his perfect 8-0 record, the Commodores have rolled through the season to this point and enter with a 41-9 overall record and 17 wins in conference play. Coach Tommy Slater says the Tigers must be very good to pull off the surprise this weekend but he's preaching to his team to take care of business one day at a time.
"We've got a tall order in front of us," Slater says. "It's the cliché ‘we're going to approach it one game at a time and try to win each game'. We'll try to win tomorrow night against Price. That's the bottom line, try to win tomorrow night. We have to keep the kids focused on trying to win one game each day…we just talked to the kids about playing hard and playing the right way. We'll see what we can do."
Evan Crawford has the tough task of facing Price Friday night.
To pull off the impossible and take all three, Auburn will have to beat perhaps the country's top collegiate pitcher in Price. Perfect on the season with a 2.77 ERA, Price is a player Slater is very familiar with after coaching him over the summer for team USA. Getting a chance to see him in person has Slater convinced he's a special player and a tough test for his team.
"The talent is unquestioned," Slater says. "He's just a tremendous talent. Having had the great fortune of spending an entire summer with David Price, he's a special, special player and person. He's very much like Tim Hudson. Tim Hudson not only was dominant with great stuff and obviously a big league all-star, what made Timmy even more important was his make up and his character. All Tim cared about was Auburn winning.
"I don't think David Price gives a rip about David Price. David Price cares about Vanderbilt and Vanderbilt winning…for me he's the ultimate team player. Here's a guy that is going to be the first pick in the draft. He's the most talented player in college baseball this year and probably the closest to being a big leaguer of any player in college. All he cares about is Vanderbilt winning."
While Vanderbilt will have its ace, Auburn will be without ace Paul Burnside for the third consecutive week and likely the rest of the season after the sophomore was sidelined with a strained bicep following his victory over Alabama. Instead of risking further injury by pitching him Slater says they'll likely shelf Burnside for the rest of the season to make sure he doesn't injure his arm even more this season.
"I don't think Paul will pitch the rest of the season," Slater says. "He's no better. He tried to throw a bullpen last Thursday and it just didn't work. With two weekends to play we're not going to run him out there this weekend and that would be three weeks of not throwing. In addition to an injury you're talking about de-conditioning as well. We're going to move forward into the summer with him trying to get him healthy and better and get him ready for next year."
Auburn will likely also be without its top power hitter as sophomore Mike Bianucci is still bothered by a strained hamstring. Slater says that Bianucci has been practicing and can swing the bat but won't see any action in the field against the Commodores. His role for the weekend will likely be as a pinch hitter although he could be used as a designated hitter if needed.
Friday night Auburn will send sophomore Evan Crawford (4-5, 5.52 ERA) to the mound against Price in the opener with freshman Taylor Thompson (4-2, 5.57) matching up with Mike Minor (7-1, 3.05) on Saturday. Sunday, Vanderbilt will send Cody Crowell (2-1, 4.43) to the hill while the Tigers will start either sophomore Bryan Woodall or freshman Austin Hubbard. Game times for the weekend are 6 p.m. on Friday, 2 p.m. on Saturday and 1:30 p.m. on Sunday.