Auburn baseball: Tigers' bullpen key to 6-1 start

Justin Camp pitches for Auburn against Indiana State on Sunday, Feb. 24. - Lauren Barnard photo

Auburn's relief pitchers have done an excellent job of keeping opposing teams off the scoreboard.

After seven games in this young season, Auburn has a nice 6-1 record, which happens to be the Tigers' best start since opening with 11 wins in 12 games in 2007. Perhaps the biggest reason Auburn has had so much success in the early going is the Tigers' bullpen, which has been nearly flawless.

In recent years, the Auburn bullpen -- well, Auburn pitching in general, but especially the bullpen -- has been a disappointment. Before the 2013 season, Auburn hadn't enjoyed the luxury of a bona fide closer in some time, and everyone from long relievers to set-up men seemed to have their shares of struggles at one time or another. But this year, at least early on, the bullpen appears to be a real strength. Aside from the loss to Middle Tennessee State, Auburn relievers have contributed nothing but quality innings.

Auburn bullpen production
Game IP H R ER BB K
vs. Maine, W 3-2 4 3 1 1 1 6
vs. Maine, W 12-3 5 4 2 1 0 2
vs. Maine, W 4-3 3 1/3 2 0 0 0 5
vs. Maine, W 8-4 4 3 1 1 1 2
vs. MTSU, L 2-1 2 2 1 1 0 3
vs. C of C, W 5-1 3 0 1 0 0 0
vs. Indiana State, W 6-5 7 1/3 1 0 0 3 6

Add it all up, and you've got some impressive numbers so far. Auburn relief pitchers have thrown 28 2/3 innings and allowed just four earned runs. That comes out to a 1.26 ERA, which isn't too shabby. Auburn relievers have been able to keep runs off the board mostly because they haven't been issuing free passes. They may give up a hit or two every now and then, but because they aren't walking many hitters, they aren't allowing opposing teams to run up big innings. And because they're striking out batters at an impressive rate -- 24 to date -- they aren't letting many defensive mistakes to do them in. Auburn struggles in the field at times, so if a Tiger pitcher can keep the ball from being put in play, that's definitely a bonus.

Auburn relief pitchers
Player App. IP H ER BB K ERA Record
Kendrick 3 6 1/3 2 0 3 9 0.00 0-0, 1 SV
Camp 2 8 5 1 1 4 1.12 2-0
Wade 2 1 2/3 1 0 0 1 0.00 0-0, 1SV
Carter 2 1 1/3 1 0 0 2 0.00 0-0
Shultz 1 1 0 0 0 0 0.00 0-0
Cochran-Gill 2 4 1/3 2 1 0 2 2.08 0-0, 1 SV
Williamson 1 3 1/3 3 1 1 2 2.70 1-0
Dedrick 3 2 1/3 1 1 0 4 3.86 1-1, 1 SV

Conner Kendrick and Justin Camp have made the biggest impacts out of the 'pen, pitching a combined 14 1/3 innings while allowing a single run. On Sunday against Indiana State, starter Rocky McCord was ineffective, as he allowed five runs in just 1 2/3 innings. Camp came on in relief, and after giving up a double to the first batter he faced, he dominated the Sycamores, throwing four innings and retiring 12 straight batters before allowing a walk and exiting. Kendrick then entered the game, and he finished out the final 3 1/3 innings by allowing just two walks and striking out four. On a day when the starter fell apart early and the offense could produce anything after the fourth inning, Camp and Kendrick allowed the Tigers to hold on for a 6-5 win.

While Kendrick and Camp have thrown the most relief innings and been two of the best pitchers on the staff, Terrance Dedrick is the most exciting hurler the Tigers send to the mound. We featured him in our look at Auburn's newcomers after the season-opening sweep of Maine, and while his ERA isn't great right now, that's the result of one bad pitch. Dedrick entered in the eighth inning of a 1-0 game against MTSU. There were no outs and a runner on first thanks to a Jordan Ebert error -- ahem, defensive issues -- and after recording two quick outs, he gave up a two-run homer to Johnny Thomas. The Tigers fell, 2-1.

So while Dedrick already has a blown save an a loss, Auburn fans should look forward to what he brings to the table, as he's one pitch away from having a 0.00 ERA with zero hits, zero walks, one win and two saves in three appearances. If he continues to pitch as well as he has for the overwhelming majority of his time on the mound this season, Dedrick will finish off more than a few Tiger wins.

Auburn is not without its issues right now. The defense obviously still needs plenty of work, and key offensive contributors like Garrett Cooper and Cullen Wacker have not yet gotten into a groove. In fact, the offense as a whole has had too many quiet stretches. Daniel Koger and Michael O'Neal have been good to great in their starting roles, but McCord has struggled mightily in his two starts. As it stands, the Tigers don't yet have a proven Sunday starter. Considering those problems, it wouldn't be surprising to see Auburn with a 4-3 or 3-4 record.

Instead, the Tigers have won six of seven, with three of those wins of the one-run variety. Without the great work by the relievers, that almost certainly wouldn't be the case.

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