After winning its first series of the month against Ole Miss this past weekend and a midweek game against Jacksonville State, No. 21 Auburn heads into Nashville, Tennessee, looking to keep up that momentum. The Tigers will face their highest ranked opponent of the season in No. 4 Vanderbilt.
The Commodores have lost only nine games this season and are second in the SEC East with a 12-6 conference record. They are 21-4 at home this season.
“If we really wanna get some momentum back that we had like the first 15 games, then we go through a slow stretch,” said head coach Butch Thompson. “If we have settled ourselves and we really wanna create some momentum, going to Vanderbilt, a great, great program playing as good as arguably anybody in America. If you want some respect you can go earn it this week.”
The Tigers are going into Nashville after a mix of good and bad news this week on the pitching front. It was announced that Davis Daniel will have Tommy John surgery that will end his season, but Thompson also said that Jack Owen is in the clear and is expected to pitch this weekend.
Owen pitched 2.1 innings of relief against Ole Miss after having been out since March 16. Before Owen got injured, he was having an excellent start to the season. The sophomore left-handed pitcher was 3-0 in five appearances, three of which were starts. He had a 0.31 ERA and allowed only two runs, one of which was unearned, in 29 innings pitched. He allowed 16 hits and two walks while striking out 33.
“I think we’re good,” Thompson said. “I think he really wants to start this week, and we’re trying to figure out if that’s what we should do… He really wants the ball. Its good for me to see, that’s always a good sign if a player is like, ‘Give me the ball.’”
Thompson said they are trying to figure out if it is best to use Owen in an opener type position or have him work relief again. He does plan to limit Owen to around 50 to 55 pitches.
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The plan as of Monday is to move Tanner Burns up for the Thursday start, and then it’s more of a question mark about the other two games of the three-game series.
“We’ll move Tanner up,” Thompson said. “I think there is three guys. I think it’s Jack, Fitts and Fuller that you’re trying to figure out.”
The Commodores have scored 321 runs this season. They have scored 10 runs or more in 16 games, with their highest run total in a game at 24 against Davidson. Auburn (27-14, 10-8 SEC) has scored 246 runs thus far this year.
“Now we’re playing the best (offense in the league),” Thompson said. “Ole Miss swung with intentions. They hit some home runs. We hung in there and kept battling. Vanderbilt definitely has that potential, top to bottom of their line up.”
Vanderbilt’s JJ Bleday leads the NCAA in home runs with 20 on the year. He is also seventh in the nation with 53 RBI, and tied for eighth with 51 runs this season. Philip Clarke is tied for 22 in the nation with 47 RBI.
On NCAA team statistics, which was last updated on April 11, Vanderbilt (31-9, 12-6 SEC) was tied for 20th in the nation in home runs with 31. It was also tied for 13th in the nation in hits with 356.
In Auburn’s last four games, it has started to get its offensive momentum back.
In its midweek game against Jacksonville State before the Tigers head to Nashville, they scored 14 runs on 16 hits, the third-highest output for the offense this year, and the 12-run margin of victory was the largest this season.
Conor Davis has had six hits in his last four games and accounted for seven RBI. He had two home runs in Game 2 of the Tigers’ series against Ole Miss. Edouard Julien has five hits in the last four games, and accounted for seven RBI as well. In the last four games, Auburn has scored a total of 30 runs on 36 hits.
“If we can go to Nashville and win a series, I think we would have respect from everybody in baseball, college baseball right now,” Thompson said. “The way I look at it, I see that as an unbelievable opportunity for our guys.”
The three-game series will start on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. CST at Hawkins Field. Friday’s game is set for a 7 p.m. CST start, and Game 3 on Saturday is slated for a noon start.
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