Following a series win on the opening weekend of SEC play, No. 7 LSU (19-2, 2-1) will now play host to the Auburn Tigers (15-6, 0-3). LSU is coming off of a week that saw them win a series against Mississippi State by Saturday, as well as defeat Northwestern State in dramatic fashion on Wednesday.
With Auburn coming to town, LSU will have a chance to do something this weekend that they haven’t been able to do in three seasons: win a series against Auburn. The Tigers of Auburn enter the series on a bit of a down note in the conference, after starting SEC play by being swept by Vanderbilt. Regardless of how Auburn has been performing on the field, Paul Mainieri is expecting a series full of close games this weekend.
“It’s going to be a lot of tight ball games,” said Mainieri. “We are going to pitch great and play good defense and make them earn what they get. They will be some close games.”
The LSU pitching staff will also look to bounce back this weekend following uncharacteristic performances by Aaron Nola and Cody Glenn over the weekend against Mississippi State. Mainieri explained that he is not worried at all about the performances that he saw a week ago. He fully expects two of his top three pitchers to bounce back and have efficient games this weekend.
“Aaron just got off to a bad start the other day with a little bit of bad luck,” said Mainieri. “Aaron will be fine this weekend. If I only have to worry about Nola, I would feel pretty good because he is not a kid that I worry about. I expect Cody Glenn to bounce back as well.”
The Auburn lineup is not one that will overpower a pitching staff, as they only have five homeruns collectively as a team in 2013. Auburn is led at the plate by Garrett Cooper and Blake Austin, both of which are hitting .328 on the season. Cooper also leads the team in walks with 20. Mainieri is expecting a different kind of game from Auburn this time around than he has seen in the past.
“A few years ago, this was a team full of sluggers and I believe Auburn led the nation in homeruns,” said Mainieri. “However, they didn’t pitch very well. Now they have pitching and they like to play small ball. It will be different than what we have seen out of them recently.”
The LSU lineup will also get a heavy dose of left-handed pitching from Auburn this weekend. Auburn will start left-handers on Friday and Saturday, when Daniel Koger and Michael O’Neal toe the rubber for the Tigers. Auburn has yet to decide on who their Sunday starter will be, but here is the full list of pitching matchups for the weekend.
LSU – So. RHP Aaron Nola (2-0, 3.41 ERA, 31.2 IP, 36 SO)
AU – So. LHP Daniel Koger (0-1, 3.49 ERA, 28.1 IP, 16 SO)
LSU – Jr. RHP Ryan Eades (4-0, 1.69 ERA, 32.0 IP, 36 SO)
AU – Jr. LHP Michael O’Neal (4-1, 1.99 ERA, 31.2 IP, 15 SO)
LSU – So. LHP Cody Glenn (3-1, 2.25 ERA, 28.0 IP, 14 SO)
AU – TBA
The Auburn pitching plans will lead to LSU utilizing a right-handed designated hitter for at least the first two games of the series.
“I haven’t made a decision on who the designated hitter will be at this point,” said Mainieri. “It will be a right-hander for at least the first two games, so the candidates should be pretty obvious.”
Offensively, LSU will look to bounce back after a bad showing at the plate on Wednesday night. The Tigers, who are led by freshman Alex Bregman with a .382 average, will also utilize the lineup changes that were made last weekend.
LSU fans should expect junior JaCoby Jones to be back in the leadoff spot. Mason Katz will also look to continue his extremely productive 2013 season. So far this year, Katz is batting .351 with nine homeruns and 32 RBI.
One thing Mainieri is not certain of at this point is who the final starting outfielder will be this weekend, with Mark Laird and Raph Rhymes handling the duties of two of the spots.
“I’m not sure what I’m going to do with the combination of right and center field,” said Mainieri. “I know Laird will be in there, but I’m not sure if we are going to go with [Andrew] Stevenson, [Chris] Sciambra, or [Jared] Foster.”
LSU and Auburn will begin their series in Alex Box Stadium on Friday night at 7:00 p.m.
Nola ready to bounce back
LSU sophomore Aaron Nola has been dominant during the early parts of the 2013 season. However, he got off to a slow start in LSU’s opening series of SEC play against Mississippi State last weekend. Heading into the series against Auburn, Nola is well aware of what he must do to prevent a bad outing from happening.
“I have to just stay more focused in the first inning,” said Nola. “It’s always a big inning for me and I need to go out there this weekend and make a statement or set the tone for the rest of the game.”
Because he plays in a very tough conference where anyone can win or lose on any given weekend, Nola knows that he can’t take anyone lightly. The talented right-hander is gearing up for a good matchup this weekend.
“It’s going to be very important to stay focused if something goes wrong,” said Nola. “We are playing another SEC school, so they are definitely going to be good. If things don’t go my way, I have to keep my focus and keep my team in the game.”
One thing that Nola has been focusing on all week is correcting the mistakes that he made against Mississippi State last weekend. Locating his pitches and keeping everything down in the strike zone will be key for Nola in his outing against Auburn.
“I try not to throw too many strikes, but I wasn’t on top of my game last weekend,” said Nola. “I left the ball up a lot last weekend and I got hit around quite a bit. I worked on that this week and it should be corrected for this weekend.”