Auburn's Improved Pitching Leads Turnaround

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

AUBURN, Ala. (AP) -- Derek Varnadore and the rest of Auburn's
pitchers can't hide from head coach John Pawlowski during practice.
Pawlowski, a former professional pitcher, has taken on much of
the duties working with his former position this season.
"We've got to get it right," Vanadore said Thursday. "He's
standing over our shoulders so there's kind of a little more
pressure on you, which is good. It puts a little more emphasis on
the work in the mid-week."
Pawlowski has been emphasizing pitching since last fall after
the Tigers gave up far too many runs during the 2011 season, and
it's paying off so far. Auburn (17-11, 6-3 Southeastern Conference)
has won its opening three league series for the first time since
2003 going into this weekend's visit to Alabama.
If pitching was to blame for some of Auburn's struggles last
season, it gets much of the credit for the early success.
The Tigers' 2.33 earned run average in SEC games is nearly a run
better than No. 2 LSU (3.23). Auburn now ranks 48th nationally in
team ERA, up from 193nd last season.
"We spent a lot of time trying to get those guys to understand
that that's how you win," said Pawlowski, who had brief major
league stints with the Chicago White Sox in 1987 and 1988. "You
win if you can pitch."
The Tigers' rotation has gotten a big boost from the emergence
of Sunday starter Daniel Koger, a freshman who is 2-1 but ranks
fourth in the league with a 1.85 ERA.
"When he got here in the fall and started to go out there and
work, you could see he had a better feel for pitching, and poise,"
Pawlowski said. "We thought he'd have a chance to be a guy for us.
We made a decision that we were going to run him out there and see
how he handled it.
"He's done a very good job of handling the distractions that go
along with being a freshman in the weekend rotation. He's just kind
of oblivious to all the stuff going on. He's got that tunnel vision
for what he needs to do.
Saturday starter Will Kendall (4-0, 2.14) has made a big
turnaround since pitching in only five games as a freshman, all
Auburn losses.
Varnadore (1-3, 4.06) has struggled to get Friday wins after
sporting the Tigers' lowest ERA last season but still leads Auburn
in innings pitched.
The SEC rotation has been strong enough that Jon Luke Jacobs
(4-0, 2.08) has been relegated to mid-week starter despite
impressive numbers.
"We have so much more depth on the team this year," Varnadore
said. "We've got a little more experience on the pitching staff
than we did last year. We've got numerous options we can go to in
the (bullpen)."
Pawlowski's assuming more of the pitching duties this season has
allowed assistant Scott Foxhall to spend more time out recruiting,
even missing games and practices if necessary.
Pawlowski said the focus has been on keeping things simple.
"Sometimes we're looking for so many answers and we're trying
so many different things, it seems like sometimes we're looking in
the wrong direction," he said.
"Instead of too complex, let's see how simple we can make it.
"We've really tried to simplify their plans. Let them continue
to repeat their strengths out there."

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