By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala. - Imagine being the third songwriter in the room with Lennon & McCartney, sharing the dairy with Ben & Jerry, or fighting crime in Gotham with Batman & Robin.
You have to do something special to stand out.
Daniel clinched his second road series Saturday at Tennessee, pitching a career-long eight scoreless innings in Auburn's 8-1 win.
"It was a blast," Daniel said. "Struggled to get past the sixth earlier this year, so to really get to that cruise control and cruise all the way to the eighth was a lot fun."
Three weeks earlier, Daniel earned SEC Freshman of the Week honors with six shutout innings in a 4-1 series-clincher at Georgia.
A few more outings like these and Auburn's Dynamic Duo might become nationally known as a Terrific Trio.
"Those guys are going to go out and perform every week, no question about it," Daniel said. "My job is to learn from them, watch them, and then play my game Sunday. Don't try to do too much. Don't try to be `Team USA pitcher Casey Mize.' Just go out and do my thing and get people out."
When Thompson and Mize -- with their combined 10-2 record and 1.26 ERA - pitch, Daniel takes careful notes, literally and figuratively. He charts pitches for the starter who precedes him.
'I've learned a lot from those two'
"Getting to keep the book every weekend when Keegan or Casey pitches really helps me learn a lot going into the game," he said.
Daniel also leans on his seasoned teammates for tips after games, and sometimes during them.
"Those guys are unbelievable," Daniel said. "They go out every week and have the same performance. It's a lot of fun to watch. You learn a lot from watching the batters, really getting an idea of how to attack guys, in the hotel between games getting to pick their heads. What this guy did, what this guy looked like, where you feel like you can get this guy out, what mistake you made.
"Coming in between innings and having those guys talk to me on the bench. `Keep going at that guy with the fastball. He was not even close.' Stuff like that. I've really learned a lot from those two and they keep me going."
Thompson and Mize have both taken note of Daniel's maturity.
"I see that he's mature beyond his age," Thompson said. "Most freshmen aren't able to come into the SEC and throw like he has, especially the last few weeks. I think he's gotten better from day one since he got here, with the help of Coach Thompson. He's just getting better every day."
"I see a guy getting more mature and figuring it out," Mize said. "That's awesome to see that he's making adjustments and learning how to pitch in this league. The past few weeks, he's been special. He's been really good."
'Play with a chip on your shoulder'
Not only is Daniel younger than the sophomore Mize and redshirt junior Thompson, he's also shorter (6 feet 1) by an inch or two and lighter (179) by 30 pounds. On the radar gun, however, Daniel equals his more experienced teammates.
"When you look at him, you don't think he can throw 95 or 96 but he can," Mize said. "And he can run the ball with the best of them."
Daniel's flexibility helps his velocity.
"He's really flexible and he can put his body in positions that most people can't," Mize said. "If you see pictures of him throwing, it's freaky. He's got a really loose arm which allows him to do a lot of things that some guys can't. He can spin the ball really well and he's got really good run on his fastball. He's different, and you try to be different, and so I think that's why he's been successful."
"He's got very good arm strength," Thompson said. "With him being kind of small, he's also very flexible. He's very loose. He's got four pitches he can throw for a strike at any time. That doesn't come around very often for a freshman."
"From a young age, I knew I wasn't going to be very big," Daniel said. "My dad is not very big. My mom is not very big. You kind of play with a chip on your shoulder and work a little bit harder. I don't let it hold me back. I don't use it as an excuse. I just continue to go out and attack."
Auburn's pitchers benefit from a defense that has turned 41 double plays in 38 games.
"It's a blessing," Daniel said. "We preach a lot of `Three strike outs,' just going at them within three pitches and try to get outs. I think being able to pitch to contact and knowing that those guys are going to make the plays behind you, guys like Josh (Anthony) at third base making diving plays left and right, up the middle rolling double plays, Jonah Todd tracking down balls in the outfield. It brings a lot of confidence to you on the mound that you can just shove it in the zone."
Auburn begins the second half of SEC play with a 10-5 conference record, the Tigers' best in 13 years.
"It's a blast," Daniel said. "I knew coming into this, in the fall, when we were out here at 6 a.m. running and the guys were pushing each other beyond what anybody thought we could go. Everybody in the locker room gets along great.
"I told some people over Christmas break when I went home. They said, `How are you going to be this year?' I said, `I think we're going to surprise some people.' It's been a lot of fun and everybody's ready to go."
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer