In arguably the biggest series of the season to this point, No. 5 Auburn will likely return to full strength as they visit No. 8 Mississippi State.
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SEC strikeout and ERA leader Casey Mize (6-1, 1.23 ERA) will likely be available for the Tigers this weekend after battling with arm fatigue last weekend. Auburn head coach Butch Thompson did not commit to Mize starting, but said his bullpen Wednesday went well.
“I met with Casey and our trainer Sean Striker (Thursday) and (Mize) felt great so it’s an unbelievable report,” Thompson said. “We’ll treat three times today, we’ll come back and throw tomorrow. I think he’ll throw aggressively to check in one more time.”
Auburn will go with the same rotation it used last weekend vs. Arkansas: Keegan Thompson Friday, Davis Daniel Saturday and TBA Sunday. However, Thompson is expecting Mize to be available to potentially start Sunday.
“We’ll go this route to make it a coaches’ decision and put the responsibility on the coach instead of the player to allow him to keep trying to get better and 100 percent every day,” Thompson said. “We potentially may have weather shortening a day so with all these things bouncing through my head and our staff’s head, we’ll go TBA for game three but I would anticipate on a normal weekend, Casey would draw that start and want that start.”
Mize’s return would give the Tigers a tremendous boost after relying heavily on the bullpen for game three of the Arkansas series.
“We all know what he brings to the table,” shortstop Luke Jarvis said. “He’s going to give you his all and usually give you a good start. It’s definitely big for us, especially going into a huge away series.”
Auburn (30-13, 12-6) currently sits one game behind Mississippi State (29-14, 13-5) in the SEC West standings.
The Bulldogs have won four straight and nine of its last 11 games. Mississippi State is led by first baseman Brent Rooker, who is hitting .403 with 17 home runs and 61 RBI. Rooker leads the SEC in nearly every offensive category including average, home runs, RBI, doubles (21), on-base percentage (.505), slugging percentage (.893) and stolen bases (16).
“I’m well aware that Brent Rooker was the best hitter in the world for a period of time,” Auburn’s second-year head coach said. “Every time he comes up, every at bat, what’s that situation? And can we, as a pitching staff, pitch him appropriately in that situation because I know he has had success in the SEC.”
Pitching, however, has been an issue for the Bulldogs. Mississippi State’s pitching staff ranks 13th in the SEC with a 4.40 ERA. They lead the SEC in walks allowed (209), but rank No. 2 in the SEC with 400 strikeouts.
Auburn is led by center fielder Jonah Todd, whose .384 batting average ranks third in the SEC. Reigning SEC Player of the Week Josh Anthony raised his batting average over 20 points last weekend after his 9-for-12 performance vs. No. 16 Arkansas.
Auburn, who ranks last in the SEC in home runs, have hit 11 in its last nine games after hitting just 10 in its first 34 games. The Tigers have only lost one series this season, and will look to continue its success in Starkville against another Top 25-opponent.
“I like the significance of every game that we play right now,” Thompson said. “Our coaching staff and our players have worked their heart out. For every game to be a sincere magnitude like it is, I tip my hat to everybody associated with Auburn baseball.”
Thompson will return to Starkville for the first time as Auburn’s head coach after spending seven years as an assistant coach at Mississippi State.
“There are so many relationships and so many people from the AD to the coaching staff to those players, that it’s going to be great to see,” Thompson said. “But this is a business trip for us to try and have success as a baseball team.”
First pitch Friday night between the two top-10 teams is set for 6:30 p.m. CST. Saturday’s tilt is set for 7 p.m., and the final game of the series will begin at noon Sunday. Saturday and Sunday’s games will be televised by the SEC Network.
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