March 28, 2013
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN -- Conner Kendrick is healthy and ready to go.
The Auburn pitcher who missed fall ball because of health issues will make his first start of the season in tonight's series opener against Alabama after building his arm strength in the bullpen. He did that with a team-high 10 relief appearances while compiling the fifth-best ERA in the SEC at 1.46 and allowing just a .160 batting average, the fourth lowest in the league.
Coach John Pawlowski is shaking up his starting rotation after an 0-6 start in the SEC against a difficult schedule that featured No. 2 Vanderbilt and No. 3 LSU. Overall, Auburn is 15-10. Alabama is 16-10 overall and 5-1 in the league. The first pitch Thursday is 6 p.m. in Plainsman Park.
Pawlowski said it's time for Kendrick.
"When we recruited Connor Kendrick the goal for him was to be a weekend starter," he said. "He's healthy now. When he came back in January we started him in the bullpen to try to build his pitch count up. We said, 'Hey, this may be a good thing here and eventually we'll put him in the rotation.' Now is the time. He certainly deserves the opportunity."
Plus, Kendrick no-hit Alabama for six innings in relief in a 6-3 win in the Capital City Classic in Montgomery on March 5.
"If he's one of our top pitchers, you'd want to at least let him to go out there with an even slate," Pawlowski said.
Pawlowski is looking for an SEC turnaround.
"It's important for a lot of reasons: The mindset of our team, knowing we put ourselves in this position and have not played well on the two conference weekends. There can't be any residuals. You have to move forward. We still have 80 percent of our SEC games left. That's the positives. Now, we have to do something with it.
"There is a lot of baseball left to be played, there is a lot of good left in this team. There are a lot of opportunities to turn this thing in a positive."
Kendrick will face Alabama's Charley Sullivan (2-1, 2.92 ERA) tonight.
Friday's 6 p.m. game will feature Auburn's Michael O'Neal (4-2, 2.78 ERA) against Jon Keller (3-2, 2.78 ERA). Auburn hasn't announced its starting pitcher for Friday's 3 p.m. series finale. Alabama is scheduled to start Spencer Turnbull (2-1, 3.31 ERA). Saturday's game will be televised by CSS.
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