Many have wondered for days who the Auburn Tigers would send out to toe the rubber in their NCAA Baseball Tournament opener against Northeastern on Friday and today, on Thursday, head coach Butch Thompson revealed the thinking behind his choice.
"I think the biggest thing that a coach and coaching staff has to do is line up his pitching, and we're going to do everything we can to try to win the tournament," Thompson said Thursday following Auburn's first practice at Doak Field in North Carolina, the site of their regional tournament. "... The starting pitching and how you really manage your bullpen, whether you're up, down, tied, I really think that's the biggest coaches influence in a Regional, is how you line up and use your pitching. But we're going to make every decision so we have the best chance to win the tournament.
For game one, that decision is Tanner Burns, the Freshman out of Decatur High School who's gone 6-4 this year with a 3.12 ERA.
"We think our road journey has prepared us, and Tanner has thrown some of his best games on the road," Thompson said. "He threw beautiful in the tournament last week.... We feel like Tanner has continued to grow and get stronger. He's got a tremendously strong build, strong arm, he's gotten better through his experience going through the Southeastern Conference in his first year."
In his previous two outings against LSU and Ole Miss in the SEC Tournament, Burns only allowed three earned runs in 13 innings of work. So clearly those days on the bump gave his coaches confidence in what he brings to the table for Friday.
"He's held up well, and we think he's so competitive, so we think he's as fresh as any starter can be this time of year," Thompson said. "We think he still pitches with a real true, sincere fastball that you have to respect, and we think he's ready for the outing."
First pitch is slated for 1:00 p.m. CT in Raleigh and can be streamed live on ESPN3.