I am by no means an expert in anything medical related. I'm not even an expert in anything baseball related. So, my qualifications to really discuss this are zero. However, that comes close to fitting everything else about me with sports and y'all still read my stuff, so why not take a crack at this?
I've been contemplating this question for a few weeks now as the reports came out each weekend that Keegan Thompson was still out after the tendinitis issue that caused him to be pulled from the Ole Miss game. Since then, aside from last weekend against Alabama, Auburn's pitchers have performed remarkably well even without Thompson.
So, as we approach this afternoon's Game 1 of the Florida series, I was pondering just what conditions I could see being reasonable for Keegan Thompson to return to the mound now that he's been cleared.
It's my personal opinion that there is absolutely no way that Keegan Thompson should start any game this weekend. He hasn't pitched in almost a month. He may be rested and healthy, but I just don't know if we want to immediately throw him into the fire with a start this weekend. Especially in a series that is so important for the team to do well in.
The only starting pitcher we know for the weekend so far is Cole Lipscomb, tonight. So, we know that's not going to happen. There are a number of other options for the rest of the weekend like Rocky McCord or Dalton Rentz. I just don't feel like Keegan Thompson should be expected to go out and pitch a starter's load so quickly.
Maybe. I have zero insight into what Auburn pitching coach Tom Holliday (who has complete control over the pitchers) is thinking or the complete medical determination on Keegan's arm, but this seems the most likely way he steps onto the mound this weekend in a significant fashion. I could see Keegan getting an inning or two in as a reliever.
The question then becomes what situation would we bring him in for? Do we trust that his arm (and his confidence in his arm) is up to putting him into a stressful, dangerous situation? I'm guessing it would be more in line to replace a starter or other reliever who is starting to get a bit shaky, but I could see them throwing in an ace pitcher if they really need to get out of an inning and Keegan is up to it.
This might be the best case situation. Put him in for a batter or two to close out an inning and then pull him. Maybe, and I stress the maybe, leave him in for a batter or two the next inning and just feel him out and see how he's throwing the ball.
As A Closer?
If he's healthy, confident, and ready to go, then this is where I would say to use him. Let him close out a game. He sees minimal batters, but you can use him in one or two games during the weekend this way. Don't stress his arm too much this quickly and let him hopefully pitch you into a series win and get him ready for Hoover.
What if Auburn is Losing the Series?
If things look bad for Auburn, I say save him. I'm more concerned with Keegan's arm and his long-term future than I am with Auburn baseball making it past Hoover. Hoover is a lock, but if things are looking bad for us in a game, then I would not put him in. Save his arm. Don't risk anything happening to exacerbate the issue.
Since he's medically cleared to pitch, I don't have any doubts about him pitching this weekend. However, if things are on the ropes, I wouldn't risk him just to try to salvage something at the risk of further damage. He's a sophomore, and we'll have him for at least one more season. He's got a bright future ahead of him, and that's not worth risking for the chance that Auburn can make an NCAA Regional.
If the Tigers do succeed in making a regional, then I think we'll slowly see them working towards getting him to start or getting more time in as a reliever. Then again, like I said at the beginning, I really don't know all that much, so this is pure hypothetical, anyway. It's just something to ponder as we head into this final series of the year and see what Auburn's post-season fate may be.