Feb. 11, 2009
HEAD COACH John Pawlowski
"I appreciate everybody being here, and certainly, these guys are as anxious as I am to get started. They have worked extremely hard in the fall and the early part of this spring practice. As a coach, you always think, `We have so much more to do," but as players, these guys are like, `Coach, we've got it taken care of. We're ready to go.' We're at that stage where the guys are getting a little tired of facing each other, and they're ready to face some outside competition. Going into the season, we said it was going to be a great challenge, and it certainly is. Obviously, with a new coaching staff and some new players on board, with the leadership that we have on this team with these four guys up here [Kevin Patterson, Hunter Morris, Ryan Jenkins, and Paul Burnside], and some of the other guys that have been through the SEC battles, hopefully we can rely on them and they can help us get through a difficult and challenging SEC schedule. We're excited and looking forward to it. It's hard to believe that next week we're going to crank it up already. It's exciting for me, personally, and it's exciting for our staff. I think a lot of people here at Auburn are very excited about the opportunity that we have. How good we're going to be, and how talented we are; we don't know that yet. We're going to see how we stack up, but I tell these guys everyday, `Good things come to people who work hard.' And these guys have worked hard. It's time for Auburn to start making some headway in the SEC, and it's going to start next week, next Friday. We're going to go out there and play hard. We're certainly looking forward to the challenge."
On what the everyday line-up might look like...
"I think we've got some uncertainty in a couple of spots. Right now, we would line up with Ryan Jenkins behind the plate. Jenkins has been through the battles, certainly, and had a great fall for us. He's great to have behind the plate because he's a leader. I think he'll continue to lead both on and off the field. Third base and shortstop are kind of up in the air right now. Joe Sanders could play third or short, depending on Casey McElroy. Casey is a freshman shortstop from Orlando, Florida, who sprained his ankle and we hope that he's going to be ready to go. If he is, then Casey will probably play short and Joe will play third. If not, we'll probably have to make a couple of adjustments. Justin Hargett, who did a great job last year, will play second base, and then Hunter Morris will play first base. In the outfield, we've got a couple of options. Brian Fletcher in left field, Trent Mummey in center field, and Kevin Patterson in right field. We've moved a couple of guys around. Jamie Drinkard has done a good job as a senior who's been around, and also Tony Caldwell.
I think when we look at ourselves defensively, the biggest area of concern is shortstop, and probably playing defense. Other than that, I think we've got some experience in the outfield, and certainly behind the plate, which I think we'll definitely need.
Pitching wise, as a coach, sometimes you feel good because you know who your starters are, but then you go three weeks into the season, and all of a sudden, things change drastically. I feel like we've got a couple of guys right now who we're looking at that will be out there on the weekend. Grant Dayton, who had a great second half for us last year, is going to get an opportunity to go on Friday night. Paul Burnside, who is coming off an injury last year, has had a great deal of success in the SEC. We're looking for his leadership and to give him the ball and let him go to work. And then from there on out, we can go with Taylor Thompson if he's healthy, and he's got a way's to go, yet, and with John Luke Jacobs. So we've got about three or four starters.
Then in the bullpen, I feel like we're going to have to mix and match guys down there. I don't think we have a dominant closer, but that's ok. We're going to go with what we have, and we've got a couple of different looks and feels down there, with Rus Harper, a left-hander who's throwing the ball very well, and Bradley Hendrix. You've got guys like Michael Hurst, who's doing a great job with us with the sidewinder, and Scott Shuman, who's got a ton of potential. And then the other guy you're going to see out there is Hunter Morris. You know, all the pitchers come up to me and they say, `Coach, can we hit? I can hit,' and so you're going `OK.' And then all the hitters, they say, `Hey Coach, I can pitch.' So when Hunter came up to me, he said, `Hey Coach, I can pitch,' I just thought it was another one of those, `Oh well, here we go again, this is just a part of baseball.' But he indicated to me that he was recruited out of high school as a two-way player, and didn't get the opportunity last year. We looked at him and he's done a good job for us, so you'll probably get a chance to see him a little bit out there, also."
On Hunter Morris in a closing role and what he pitches...
"Yeah, I think right now as we settle in, ideally, if he could be in that closing role, that would be great. I don't know if that's the best avenue to go right now. We're going to put guys out there, and if a guy is pitching well in the seventh or eighth inning, then I think we're going to start with letting those guys finish the game off until we have somebody who has emerged out of the bullpen. If a guy's rolling along, then we're going to let him go out there and finish. If he's in the eighth then we'll let him finish the ninth. If it's Hunter, if it's Shuman, if it's whoever it may be; we just have a lot of different looks down in the bullpen, and arm strength doesn't necessarily get it in this league. It's about different looks and being able to spin your breaking ball and your changeup. We think we have an advantage in that department so we'll see how that goes. Hunter throws from a low three-quarters. His fastball sinks, and he's got a pretty good feel of the breaking ball, and his changeup. He throws three pitches, all of which have the ability to induce ground balls. I told them that that's what our goal is; to pitch to contact and let them get ground balls, and not try to strike people out, and let the defense do the work. So he's going through a little phase in that segment right now, as far as trying to do that, but he's done a really good job and if we can get some innings out of him, that would be tremendous."
Will you limit the innings for your pitchers?
"Well, the NCAA has put us in a tough spot as far as our starting day. Our starting day was February 1 for practice, so our spring season has been shorter. So, we've really had to monitor their innings, but it's going to be the effort. You can throw 100 pitches in a game and it might be easy, and then you can throw 100 pitches and it's real tough, so we'll monitor that. As far as durability, we are very pleased with where Paul (Burnside) is at as he has led the pitchers in innings pitched. He's healthy and he's able to handle a large work load. In this league, your starting pitcher has to be able to handle a large load of the innings if you want to be successful."
What are some real expectations for this year's team?
"We've set a lot of goals inside our clubhouse and they are things that we want to achieve and the level that we want to get to in our program. I've told them before, whether we have the most talent or not, nobody will know that. It's all about our judgment. If we work hard and do the things that we are capable of, I think that, realistically, playing in the SEC tournament is one of our goals. We haven't been there in five years and I would like nothing more than to send these seniors off with an opportunity to play in the SEC tournament and in the postseason. That's one of my commitments. I want to see these guys be able to walk onto the field and see what's it's like to play for it all at the SEC tournament and at the Regionals in the postseason. We have high expectations, but that's the way I like it. I think that we should all hold ourselves to high expectations here at Auburn and we are going to do everything that we can do to get ourselves back to where we need to be and where we want to be."
Talk about the 5k and the base run this weekend...
"This weekend, we have the Strikeout Cancer run. We brought back the diamond dolls, which has not been a part of the program for four or five years. We brought back the diamond dolls and they wanted to help and contribute to our program. They approached me and we talked about doing a Strikeout Cancer run. They decided to do a run and I was all for it. This Saturday at 8:40 a.m., there is a free kids run where they can run around the bases and the outfield. At 9 a.m., we are going to have a 5k race. It is $20 and the proceeds will go to the East Alabama Cancer Center in honor of my daughter, Mary Louise, which is truly remarkable. It's a great cause and we have a real good turnout and the weather looks like it is going to be good on Saturday. It's funny because I have 35 guys on my team and 35 guys volunteered to run in that race. They're looking forward to it, trust me. It should be a great event and we hope that everybody can be there on Saturday."
SENIOR RHP Paul Burnside
Are you apprehensive entering this season at all?
"I don't like the word "apprehension," but I definitely have some enthusiasm. I'm excited about coming back. It's been so long since I've competed at the level that I need to compete at. Coming into this year, I have a little bit of anxiety. I've been waiting for this day for a while just to be back at 100 percent and to be able to compete and to help Auburn win again."
How is your arm strength?
"It's a lot better than it was last year. I feel like my arm strength is back now and it's developing some more consistency. It's still working its way in there and as long as my body is there and with my arm, mechanic-wise, then I'll be able to throw some strikes and keep the ball in the ballpark."
SOPHOMORE IF Hunter Morris
What made you want to try pitching?
"Well, we had some problems out of the bullpen last year. As Coach Pawlowski said, I was recruited as a two-way player and I didn't get a chance to do that last year. They told me, since I was hitting in the middle of the lineup as a freshman, that they didn't want to put too much pressure on me and they wanted me to concentrate on hitting, which was good for me because at the next level, that is what is going to carry me. When the staff came in, I told them "if you want to give me the opportunity to try it out on the mound, then let's do it."
Would you be okay closing games out on the mound?
"If that's what helps us win, then by all means, that's what I will do."
SENIOR C Ryan Jenkins
What have the last eight to ten months been like with the transitions of staff?
"There have been a lot of adjustments. You get into a rhythm after being with the same coaching staff, so it's hard to get out of that. The first months was all about getting into a new rhythm and getting used to a new staff. The guys that I spent all of the off-time came in and got right on the ball and made us feel comfortable. From the first day out, we've been working since then and we've kept on rolling. Everybody feels comfortable now. This has become our routine and our rhythm. They made a good transition."
What are some of the differences?
"It's been a little bit of coaching philosophy, but there have been different day-to-day things like practice routings and weightlifting. There are different mentalities about the different aspects of practice. That's been the biggest difference."
How has your preseason game been?
"I feel pretty good. Coach (Matt Heath) has done a lot of work with me and I feel like a completely different hitter than I was last year. I feel pretty good to play and I attribute a lot of that to him (Heath) because he has helped me a lot with my swing and has spent a lot of time with me. He's helped me to get into the groove."