"He told me on Monday when we got to the field, Rodriguez said. "I was in the training room and Coach Bunn said ‘I need to see you.' I thought oh what did I do now. So I go over there and he just said that I would start on Sunday. I looked at him and said ‘alright, sounds good.' It was a little relief."
The senior will start on Sunday in place of Brett Bukvich as No. 13 Ole Miss (19-8, 3-3) travels to Auburn (19-9, 0-6) for a key SEC weekend. The Tigers are 0-6 this year and have dropped 16 straight conference games dating back to last season against Alabama. Even so, head coach Mike Bianco is fearful of Auburn, which has been swept by Georgia and Florida so far in 2007.
"Everybody has prefaced it with 0-6, but it's the SEC," Bianco said. "You are talking about a team that was ranked in the top 15 just two weeks ago. They have lost several games late so they could very well be 3-3 or 2-4. The fact is that it's only a three-game difference between us and it is on the road."
The Tigers were No. 20 in the Baseball America poll as late as March 12. The Rebels were No. 23 in that particular poll. Auburn currently sports a 37th-ranked RPI according to warrennolan.com and does have an impressive series win over nationally ranked Arizona State.
While the SEC struggle on the Plains has went on for a double-digit amount of games, head coach Tom Slater is only concerned with the past six.
"We have lost six in a row by my count," Slater said. "Don't talk about last year. Last year's team stunk and that was last year. It has nothing to do with this year."
Something that can be taken from last season is Rodriguez's success against Auburn. The left-hander also made his 2006 SEC season debut versus the Tigers and threw a gem during a 14-2 Ole Miss rout. Rodriguez went the distance and only allowed two first-inning runs.
It was the beginning of eight conference starts where he compiled a 4-3 record including victories over Tennessee, LSU and Auburn as well as the clincher over Vanderbilt during the SEC Tournament. Rodriguez also suffered a 1-0 complete game setback at then-No. 7 South Carolina.
The success over Auburn is something that immediately popped into his mind.
"First thing I noticed was that it is a team that I threw well against last year," Rodriguez said. "The majority of the players are the same as last year so I'm ready to go in there. I watched a little film from last year's game to check the game plan. It is a little confidence booster knowing that I threw against them last year and had some success."
Previous Sunday starter Brett Bukvich pitched a successful inning out of the pen Tuesday against Southern Miss and could very well see time in a key situation during the weekend. The move is an effort to find the right combination between the rotation and the relief.
"It is kind of like last year when he intertwined (Cody) Satterwhite one Friday night after Tommy (Baumgardner) couldn't do it," Rodriguez said. "And he threw Garrett (White) on Saturday. He is trying to figure out the right code I guess. But I will do whatever he tells me to do and he told me to start so hey we are going to give it a shot."
Bianco agreed but said the move was somewhat performance based.
"The lineup always seems to change, and the rotation always seems to change," Bianco said. "Some guys are playing well at certain times and some guys aren't. That is really what happened.
"Brett hasn't been really effective the last few weeks. Although I still think he is going to come back do great, I thought we needed to make a change and Craig has pitched well out of the bullpen. We know what he can do as a starter from last year so I thought he deserved a shot."
Ole Miss isn't the only team mixing and matching the rotation as Auburn enters with a new weekend starter as well. The Tigers are moving the Saturday and Sunday hurlers up one day and giving freshman Taylor Thompson his first SEC start in the weekend finale.
"I look for Taylor to go out and fill up the strike zone," Slater said. "He could have been a high draft pick out of high school. I need him to go out and compete for us."
Former Friday night starter Bryan Woodall is now in the bullpen with the Tigers hoping that he can play a role in multiple games against the Rebels.
"Bryan is one of our best pitchers and has thrown really well," Slater said. "After two weekends, our bullpen has been a part of our team that hasn't been good. Bryan has pitched well through about three or four innings, and he can pitch multiple times in a weekend. We are not looking at it as a demotion bur rather a strengthening to our pen."
The Rebels' bullpen woes could quickly improve with Bianco excited about Satterwhite being on top of his game following the sophomore's previous two appearances.
"Cody is continuing to get stronger, better and more confident," Bianco said "That is exciting, he averaged 93 down in Jackson and that is him. I think he is back and ready."
Even though he wasn't expecting the role change, Rodriguez will trot out and try to deliver Sunday for Ole Miss.
"It is awesome to get back in there," Rodriguez said. "I don't know how to describe the feeling when he told me. I was kind of shocked because Buk had been throwing pretty well. He has caught some bad breaks.
"It was something coach had said before the season that I might could get back in the rotation. Or maybe start some midweeks. At this point in the season though, I just thought Buk had thrown well. I am all go and excited about it."
Friday 6 p.m.
Will Kline (Jr., RHP, 3-1, 49.1 IP, 2.74 ERA)
Paul Burnside (So, RHP, 4-0, 36.2 IP, 3.68 ERA
Saturday 2 p.m.
Lance Lynn (So, RHP, 2-2, 44 IP, 2.05 ERA)
Evan Crawford (So LHP, 3-2, 30.2 IP, 5.58 ERA)
Sunday 1 p.m.
Craig Rodriguez (Sr, LHP, 1-0, 19.2 IP, 2.75 ERA)
Taylor Thompson (Fr, RHP, 3-0, 29 IP, 3.72 ERA)
Rodriguez in Rotation for Trip to Auburn
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