Getting runners on base hasn't been a big problem for Auburn's baseball team. Getting them home has been.
Auburn senior Justin Bryant
And that's why there could be a new face in the batting order when the Tigers (10-7) open Southeastern Conference play tonight at No. 12 Ole Miss (14-3).
Bryant arrived at Auburn from Itawamba (Miss.) Community College planning to be a pitcher in the 2010 season. Instead, he became an offensive standout, hitting .323. In the 26 games he started, the Tigers were 22-4. But an arm injury ended his season early an surgery kept him out all of last season. He returned for his fifth season planning to concentrate on pitching.
In six relief appearances, Bryant is 1-0 with a 3.72 ERA. He's expected to continue his role as a late-game reliever, but he could also become the designated hitter as early as tonight. Auburn coach John Pawlowski said he probably would have been in the lineup at South Alabama on Tuesday had the game not been rained out.
“We could use another experienced bat in the lineup," Pawlowski said. "He has that experience. He has quite a few at-bats at this level. He’s such a tough competitor that it really doesn’t matter how many at-bats he’s had or if he hasn’t had any at-bats. He is going to go up there and compete."
Senior Creede Simpson has been Auburn's offensive leader. He's hitting .439 with 15 runs batted in and seven doubles. Junior college transfer Ryan Tella is hitting .410. Sophomore Dan Glevenyak is hitting .373 and senior Cullen Wacker .333.
Ole Miss' pitchers will present a major challenge for Auburn's hitters. Ole Miss has a sparkling team ERA of 2.74. Sophomore right-hander Bobby Wahl, tonight's starter, is 3-0 with a 1.96 ERA. He will face senior Auburn right-hander Derek Varnadore, 1-1 with 5.55 ERA.
Saturday, Ole Miss will pitch R.J. Hiveley (3-0, 2.08) up against sophomore Will Kendall (2-0, 0.00). On Sunday, Ole Miss ill go with Mike Mayers (2-1, 3.43) against freshman Daniel Koger (1-1, 1.82).
“It’s going to be a great challenge," Pawlowski said. "Ole Miss has played very well early in the season. You look up and down their lineup at their stats and numbers, and they’ve done some really positive things. Our players are anxious. They are looking forward to it.”
Tonight's series opener starts at 6:30. Saturday's game and Sunday's game are scheduled for 1:30 p.m.