Feb. 27, 2014
By Phillip Marshall
AUBURN, Ala. – First-year Auburn baseball coach Sonny Golloway, still looking for answers after seeing his team stagger out of the gate, turned to his pitching rotation on Thursday.
Senior left-hander Michael O’Neal, who won eight games as a starter last season and started the first two Saturdays this season, has moved to the bullpen for this weekend’s three-game series against Presbyterian at Plainsman Park. Senior right-hander Dillon Ortman (2-0, 0.69 ERA) will start Friday, freshman Keegan Thompson 1-0, 0.64) on Saturday and sophomore Trey Wingenter (0-0, 0.00) on Sunday.
Wingenter, a 6-foot-7 right-hander known for his fastball, has pitched in one game this season. He pitched a scoreless inning in a 5-0 loss to California.
It was another day in a tumultuous week for Auburn baseball. After a 3-2 loss to East Tennessee State on Sunday, Golloway dismissed senior outfielder Hunter Kelley from the team. Senior Patrick Savage and sophomore Chase Williamson, Golloway said, left on their own.
Golloway said O’Neal will give Auburn a needed second left-hander in the bullpen, joining junior Daniel Koger.
“If you stack that left-handed lineup and get to one of our starters, we’ll come with (O’Neal),” Golloway said. “He’s like a starter. Right now it’s a strategy move. The key is – and we need to find out early – can Wingenter fill a starting spot? Can Justin Camp? Will Kevin Davis velocity continue to increase? He’s got a chance to really be special and be in that rotation for us.”
Pitching coach Scott Foxhall
likened O’Neal’s projected role to the one played by Mississippi State’s Ross Mitchell last season. Mitchell went 13-0 and pitched 94 innings without starting a game as the Bulldogs advance to the national championship series.
“After Michael and I talked, he was good with it,” Foxhall said. “Plus, this really is an experiment right now.”
Senior catcher Blake Austin acknowledged that the loss of teammates was difficult for him and other older players. But he said they support Golloway.
“It had to be done,” Austin said. “It’s something that has been lingering around this program ever since I’ve been here. I hate it for those guys, but it needed to be done for our team to move forward. We are trying to move forward with a team concept right now. It’s been a lot of individuals in the past.
“If Coach Golloway was here, with my attitude my freshman year, he’d have kicked me off the team. It’s a complete turnaround as an older guy.”
Auburn broke a two-game losing streak Tuesday with a 7-3 win over Alabama A&M to improve to 4-4. Presbyterian is 4-3-1, falling 4-2 to Clemson, 4-0 to South Carolina and 8-7 to Wofford.
Gametime Friday is set for 6 p.m. Saturday’s game starts at 3 p.m. and Sunday’s game at 1 p.m.
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: