AUBURN – Left-hander Conner Kendrick will carry a heavy load in his first Southeastern Conference start tonight when Alabama visits Plainsman Park at 6 for the first game of a three-game series.
Conner Kendrick has been Auburn's most consistent pitcher
He’ll pitch against Alabama at Plainsman Park. That’s heavy enough. And he’ll be called on to get the Tigers out of a tailspin that threatens to send head coach John Pawlowski’s fifths season spinning out of control. The Tigers (15-10, 0-6) have been swept by No. 2 Vanderbilt and No. 3 LSU in their first two Southeastern Conference series. Tuesday night, they were dreadful in striking out 14 times and making four errors in an 11-2 loss at Troy.
“When we recruited Conner Kendrick the goal was for him to be a weekend starter,” Pawlowski said. “In the fall he had a little bit of a health issue, but he’s healthy now. When we came back in January we started him in the bullpen to try to build his pitch count up. We wanted to eventually get him into the rotation. He certainly deserves an opportunity.”
Kendrick has been Auburn’s most consistent pitcher, going 2-0 with a 1.46 ERA. He was dominating against Alabama in the Capital City Classic when he pitched six hitless innings, striking out eight and walking one, in a 6-3 Auburn victory.
Kendrick unseats Daniel Koger in the starting rotation. Left-hander Michael O’Neal will start Saturday. Koger, Rocky McCord or Will Kendall are candidates to start the series finale on Sunday.
The stakes are high. Kendrick knows that as well as anyone.
“We’re definitely down,” Kendrick said. “It’s a rough start. I feel like if we get a win on Thursday we’ll keep on rolling in the SEC with a little bit more motivation.”
Kendrick, a transfer from Northwest Florida Community College, knows all about the Auburn-Alabama rivalry. He grew up in Gulf Shores.
"I would say there is a lot of pressure, but I’m not really feeling it right now," Kendrick said. "We win or lose as a team."
Alabama comes to town with records of 16-10 and 5-1, having won two of three from Tennessee at home and swept Georgia on the road. Both Georgia and Tennessee have losing records and are picked to finish near the bottom of the SEC.