Auburn has been one of the SEC’s top hitting teams during the John Pawlowski era. But the Tigers have been inconsistent on the mound over those four seasons, which has kept them from advancing far into the postseason.
Koger will start the opener Friday.
Sophomore Daniel Koger, who will be Auburn’s opening day starter against Maine Friday, is confident this year’s pitching staff will be much improved.
“I think it is a very powerful pitching group all together,” Koger said. “Our bullpen is absolutely loaded this year. It’s as strong as any bullpen as I’ve ever seen in college, so I think the pitching is going to be a lot better than most people expect.”
Koger will be followed in the starting rotation by sophomore Rocky McCord and junior Michael O’Neal in Saturday’s double-header against the Black Bears. Auburn hasn’t named a starter for Sunday’s season finale.
“Daniel Koger started 15 games for us last year. I think it was the second most in the SEC (among freshman). He is a guy we are counting on to do great things for us,” Pawlowski said. “...Rocky McCord had a great summer. Michael O’Neal is a junior college pitcher that we have high expectations for.
“I have some other guys in Trey Cochran-Gill, Trey Wingenter and Dillon Ortman that are competing for time also.”
On offense, Auburn returns its top four hitters from a last year’s team, which led the SEC with a .304 average. Outfielders Ryan Tella (.360) and Cullen Wacker (.350), first baseman Garrett Cooper (.324) and shortstop Dan Glevenyak (.319) along with newcomer, third baseman Damek Tomscha, should provide the Tigers plenty of pop in the lineup.
“We return so much of our offense from last year over to this year, and we know the expectations that we need to bring out every weekend especially do well on the weekends, but also compete well on the weekday games. That will help us a lot,” Tella said. “I think we will be able to lead the SEC or close to it in batting average.”
First pitch for Friday’s opener is set for 3:00 p.m. CT. Saturday’s double-header will begin at noon while Sunday’s finale is set for 11:00 a.m.
***Pawlowski said junior left-hander Will Kendall will be a part of the 35-man roster that must be set before the start of the season. Kendall underwent Tommy John surgery last year and Pawlowski hopes to have him back for the opening SEC series against Vanderbilt, which gets underway March 15. Kendall was 4-0 with a 1.88 ERA before going down with an injury last spring.
***Pawlowski said highly-touted freshman Sam Gillikin will likely get the opening-day start in right field. He’s been in a tight battle with junior college transfer Hunter Kelley and freshman Jackson Burgreen.
***Auburn was picked to finish last in the SEC West in a poll of all SEC coaches.
“People can write whatever they want, vote whatever way they want, but when it comes down to it, you have an opportunity to play the game and that is the greatest thing. When it comes time, it will certainly be used as motivation for this club,” Pawlowski said.
***Auburn will play the first 11 and 18 of its first 20 games at Plainsman Park. Following the 4-game series against Maine, Auburn hosts Middle Tennessee State, College of Charleston and Indiana State next weekend.