Auburn, Ala.--The Auburn Tigers take a major step up in competition in week two of the baseball season this when they take on the 11th-ranked Florida State Seminoles (3-0) in a split four-game series beginning Thursday at 6 p.m. at Plainsman Park and ending at Dick Howser Stadium in Tallahassee for games on Saturday and Sunday.
After an easy four-game sweep of East Tennessee State to start the season, Coach Tommy Slater says he's ready to see how his Auburn team responds to one of the top teams in the country.
"I think you've seen our scheduling philosophy here and I think it's helped us," Slater says. "We try to play typically the second or third weekend a top-flight nationally known program be it a Florida State or an Arizona State.
"Florida State in my mind, when you talk about this part of the country, is the model of consistency. I'm not sure how many regionals in a row, but it's upwards of 26, 27. The Super Regionals started in '99 and I think they've gone to the Super Regionals every year up until the last two. They have what all of us strive for, which is the model of consistency.
"They run a clean program, they run a very good program and they get their superstar players--the Drews, the Buster Posey‘s, who is there now, and they're very productive--but they also take guys that maybe weren't highly recruited and they become really good players. It's just a credit to Coach (Mike) Martin. They run a great program and they do a great job. I like for us to play these types of people because I think it's important before we get into SEC play to play nationally known, quality ball clubs. I think it's exciting for the fans. They get to see a quality opponent in here, a name program."
Auburn enters the series against the Seminoles coming off an impressive sweep last weekend that saw the Tigers do yeoman's work on the mound, both in starting and relief roles. Luke Greinke, Cory Luckie, Taylor Thompson and Austin Hubbard were all solid in starting roles, but Slater says it was the pitching of the guys in the bullpen that was the major story for him. In 15 innings the bullpen gave up just five hits and one earned run.
"I was really happy with our bullpen," Slater says. "I thought every guy we brought in, they all did their job. They all threw the ball well. I thought that Luke gave us a really solid start and so did Cory Luckie on Friday and Saturday. Again, I thought the bullpen--Grant Dayton, Scott Shuman, Bradley Hendrix, Bryan Woodall, Evan Crawford, Michael Hurst, all of them really threw the ball well.
"I thought that Taylor and Austin, after getting nerves and jitters gone after the first couple of innings, I thought that both of them settled in and threw the ball better for us in the third, fourth and fifth after some early struggles. Hopefully the first weekend nerves and jitters should all be gone now after playing four games."
Luke Greinke had a solid first outing and will get the call in the series opener.
At the plate the Tigers were just as strong as the team hit .350 with seven home runs and 37 RBI in four games and also earned 25 walks. Leading the charge was junior Mike Bianucci as he hit .583 with two home runs, six RBI and six walks. Three other players added home runs as well for an offense that got production up and down the order.
"Offensively, I was pleased up and down the lineup with what the guys did and really not just the production, but just the quality of at bats," Slater says. "I thought Friday we didn't play offense the way we are capable of. I thought we had a lot of fly ball outs, a lot of easy outs, and we didn't pressure the defense very much. Again, I tie that into opening day jitters, being jumpy at the plate and things like that. I thought with each passing day we got better and better on offense.
"I don't know how many home runs we hit total--seven or eight for the weekend. They weren't all from Mike--a couple from Kevin (Kevin Patterson) and Luke, Hunter (Hunter Morris), Ben Jones. It was multiple guys. Coach (Bill) Mosiello talks a lot about having a complete offense, an offense that can do more than just bang and more than just a short game. I enjoyed watching us play offense. I thought we were pretty complete really in all phases of our offense Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
Auburn's pitching staff will face a tough challenge against a Florida State team that scored 14, 15, and 15 runs in three shortened games over the weekend. Even without standout Tony Thomas, the Seminoles can hit with the best of them and enter with a team batting average of over .400. Leading the way is freshman Mike McGee, who hit .727 with eight hits in 11 at-bats last weekend while also starting a game on the mound. Slater says he's just one of many outstanding players the Tigers will see this weekend.
"They had a very, very good offense a year ago," Slater says. "They lost a couple of guys, but they replaced them. Tony Thomas put up huge numbers for them a year ago, but they replaced him with Tony Delmonico, who is one of the best players out of our own league. That's not a bad trade there. They lost a guy, but they replaced him with another very experienced guy.
"They opened up their weekend with three wins. They hit .423 on the weekend. Obviously they're swinging the bats very, very well and I think this will be a really good test for our pitching staff. Certainly we pitched a lot of guys this past weekend and over this four-game set we're going to need to throw a lot of guys again."
The pitching rotation for the weekend has Greinke (1-0, 3.00) going up against junior Elih Villanueva (1-0, 1.80 ERA) on Thursday and Luckie (1-0, 1.80) against lefty Matt Fairel (1-0, 1.80) on Friday at 3 p.m.
The teams will then travel to Tallahassee where Thompson (1-0, 7.20) gets the Saturday call and Hubbard (1-0, 3.60) on Sunday. Florida State is TBA for the final two games. Both games begin at 1 p.m. CST and Saturday's game can be seen on Sunshine Sports in Florida.