Tigers still searching for mound consistency

Auburn’s Derek Varnadore and the rest of the Tigers’ pitching staff will look to get back on track this weekend in a home series against Georgia.

“TBA” has become a household name in the Auburn weekend rotation this season.

The Tigers have used six different starters on the mound in SEC play and have only repeated their weekend rotation once in seven weeks, going with Cory Luckie, Will Irvin and Derek Varnadore for the first two conference weekends.

Luckie and Varnadore have each had bouts with arm soreness, Irvin is no longer with the team, and Auburn’s other weekend starters have been less than consistent.

Jon Luke Jacobs, after missing nearly a month with an injury, seems to have carved himself a place in the rotation lately, but even he had two rocky starts before righting the ship last week.

The 1948 Boston Braves had the saying “Spahn and Sain and pray for rain,” referring to aces Warren Spahn, Johnny Sain and their lack of starters behind them.

This year’s Auburn analogue could be “Varnadore and Jacobs and … who didn’t come out of the pen Friday and Saturday?”

“Sunday, we’ll figure out,” Tigers coach John Pawlowski said of the “TBA” slated to start for them against Georgia this weekend. “We’ll see who we haven’t used yet and see who we’re going to use Sunday.”

As Auburn (23-21, 9-12 SEC) enters the final three weekends of SEC play — starting with Georgia (24-21, 13-8) Friday at 6 p.m. — Pawlowski has put a premium on finding the three arms that can lend his rotation the stability it has lacked all year.

Varnadore has been a reliable option, but is also coming off his worst start at Auburn, in which he gave up four runs on five hits and three walks over 3 1/3 innings to South Carolina on Saturday.

The junior, who strikes out 8.3 batters per nine innings, didn’t fan a single Gamecock.

Luckie is dealing with his own demons.

After missing a start against Ole Miss with arm soreness, the junior lefty returned Sunday against South Carolina, only to give up three runs on three hits in 1 2/3 innings.

Luckie, who had a 3.16 strikeout-to-walk ratio at Auburn entering last weekend, walked a career-high five batters and struck out none. Pawlowski said he wasn’t sure if Luckie would be able to go this weekend.

“He said his arm was fine and he felt good. It just wasn’t,” Pawlowski said. “He’s a tough competitor and wants to be out there. Unfortunately, it wasn’t feeling as good as he had hoped.”

Jacobs provided a bright spot for Auburn in the Gamecocks’ sweep last weekend, giving up a run on five hits over eight innings and striking out a career-high nine batters.

He’ll get the first crack at Georgia on Friday night.

“He pitched in the zone and out of the zone as well as he had,” Pawlowski said of Jacobs’ last start. “He did a really good job of, in advantage counts, pitching outside of the zone — making guys chase his breaking ball, elevating his fastball.”

The Bulldogs have been the surprise of the SEC this year.

After finishing last with a 5-23 conference mark last season, they’ve put themselves in prime position for an NCAA Tournament berth.

And they, like the Tigers, have done it by taking on all comers — Georgia and Auburn have two of the toughest schedules in the nation this year.

Even with all the uncertainty surrounding its pitching staff, Auburn sits only a game behind Alabama and Arkansas for the lead in the West.

And, while the Tigers have suffered sweeps against Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and South Carolina, they also hold tiebreak advantage over Ole Miss, LSU and Arkansas and get a shot at Alabama on their home field next weekend.

“The big picture is what we look at,” Pawlowski said. “You’re going to get beat. There are going to be times where you get swept — and we have — and you’ve got to pick up the pieces and move on.”

Luckie named earns academic honor

Junior pitcher Cory Luckie has been voted to the Capital One Academic All-District First Team, selected by the College Sports Information Directors of America.

Luckie, a left-hander from Prattville, sports a 3.96 GPA in biomedical sciences while on the mound he has a 1-2 record with a 5.04 ERA in 44 innings. Last season’s SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year and a CoSIDA/ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District First Team choice, he has twice tied his career high in strike outs this season, collecting nine in back-to-back outings against Kentucky and LSU, both Auburn wins.

Luckie will now be placed on the national ballot, with first-, second- and third-team All-America honorees being selected later this month.

Georgia (24-21, 13-8) at Auburn (23-21, 9-12), Plainsman Park

Friday, 6 p.m.

Radio: WKKR 97.7 FM

Probable Starters: LHP Alex Wood (So., 4-5, 4.23) vs. RHP Jon Luke Jacobs (Jr., 1-3, 3.32)

Saturday, 3 p.m.

Radio: WKKR 97.7 FM

Probable Starters: RHP Michael Palazzone (Jr., 8-1, 2.14) vs. RHP Derek Varnadore (Jr., 4-2, 3.92)

Sunday, 1 p.m.

Radio: WKKR 97.7 FM

Probable Starters: LHP Craig Gullickson (Jr., 3-2, 6.14) vs. TBA

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