Pitching Leads The Way For Alabama

Alabama will start Jimmy Nelson against the Auburn Tigers in the opening game of the SEC Tournament in Hoover.

Tuscaloosa, Ala.--With four meetings against Auburn already this season, Alabama coach Mitch Gaspard is very familiar with the Tigers and what they bring to the plate in Wednesday morning‘s match up between the #2 seed and #7 seed at Regions Park. That is a very strong offensive club that leads the league in batting average, home runs and runs scored.

While the offense gets much of the credit and rightfully so, it has been Auburn's pitching staff in recent weeks that has allowed the Tigers to go on a tear to finish the season. Going 12-3 in the second half of the SEC schedule, Auburn (39-17, 20-10) swept Ole Miss the final weekend and allowed the Rebels to score in just three of the 27 innings played. Gaspard said right now that's the biggest difference in this Auburn team and the one the Crimson Tide faced in early April, winning two of three at home.

"One thing that jumps out and everybody talks about is offensively the power numbers," Gaspard said. "They really swing the bats extremely well. The one thing that has been overlooked is how well they've pitched. They've really solidified the rotation with three quality starters (Cory Luckie, Cole Nelson, Grant Dayton) and they've got a couple of guys in the bullpen that have pitched well.

"The strength of their team is not only do they really swing the bats, but their power numbers. They drive balls out of the park. I think the pitching has done a nice job for them John (Pawlowski) and his staff have done a nice job with keeping opponents down so those big bats come into play every weekend."

One thing Alabama (34-21, 15-15) will have going for it is a pitching staff that has been solid all season long led by starter Jimmy Nelson. Sporting a 7-2 record in 14 starts this season, Nelson has allowed 85 hits in 86 2/3 innings in 2010 and has struck out 81 while walking just 25. In addition the Crimson Tide could have lefty Adam Morgan (5-4, 6.38 ERA) available if needed in the opener.

"We're going to start Jimmy Nelson in game one," Gaspard said. "He's had adequate rest now for Wednesday's start. The one potential thing we may do is have Morgan in the pen for Wednesday's ballgame. Being left-handed and with the power bats they have being more of a left-handed dominant lineup he would certainly be able to pitch an inning or two on Wednesday. Right now Nelson is going to start the Wednesday game and we'll go game-by-game from there."

While Alabama's starting pitching has been solid all season, the offense has been up and down at times with the exception of guys like Taylor Dugas and Josh Rutledge at the top of the order. Hitting .404 this season, the speedy sophomore Dugas has scored 56 runs and has an on base percentage of .548. Rutledge is hitting .363 and reached base in 29 of 30 SEC games this season.

Even with those two doing their thing at the top of the order Alabama was sitting at 10-15 in SEC play following a Friday night loss to Ole Miss at home. Digging down deep, the Crimson Tide won the final two games of the series against the Rebels and then swept Tennessee on the road to make it to Hoover. Gaspard said that has given his team a lot of confidence heading into the SEC Tournament and the opening round game against Auburn on Wednesday at 9:30 a.m.

"You're sitting there 10-15 and in the Saturday game Nelson pitches one of those games where he wasn't going to be denied," Gaspard said. "He pitched super. It really gave our team some energy. We get a similar outing on Sunday from Nathan Kilcrease. All of the sudden we started getting some timely hits. We've been pretty good defensively all year, but the Tennessee series we were tremendous. We didn't make an error all weekend and Josh Rutledge made some game-changing plays.

"It's a combination of a lot of things, but like a lot of teams that go through the grind of the SEC mentally right now we're in a much better place than we've been all year. I think our team has confidence right now and a lot of the credit is because of the starting pitching. They feel like we've got an opportunity to win. It's a combination of all of it, but I've got to point the finger at starting pitching."

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