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January 28, 2014

Q-and-A with Sunny Golloway


AUBURN | Sunny Golloway was hired last summer and promised to get the Tigers on a direct path to the College World Series.

That's a tall order -- the Tigers haven't visited Omaha since 1997 -- but Auburn's new baseball coach believes he already has what it takes to win big this season. The former Oklahoma coach spent some time Sunday talking about his team, his plans and why you'll never hear him make excuses about not having his players in place.

Q: What have you learned about your team so far?
A: "We've accomplished an awful lot. We have a pretty good idea of our rotation, our top pitchers, who should be looked at as starters, who are good middle guys, long-relief guys. I think we have a terrific bridge-the-gap guy in (Trey) Cochran-Gill. We have a terrific closer in Terrance Dedrick.
I think our strength will be defense. We've got to be able to take care of the baseball. Our team has identified some captains that we're going to name a little bit later. I don't let our guys hide; we put the "C" right on their chest. We want the opposing team to know who our leaders are and we want those guys to stand and toe the line."

Q: What improvements have you seen since arriving last summer?
A: Coach (Greg) Norton has done a tremendous job with our hitters. I've seen them come a long way. Right now, it's about fine tuning. It's about getting started again. We like to practice, go through all of our fundamentals. I've always worried as a coach about creating a way to create pressure for them each and every day. We do sprint games at the end. We might have two of our starting pitchers start and they'll throw three innings against each other. Everything they're gearing up for that day is to be able to compete and showcase what they're getting better at. Identify strengths. Identify weaknesses."

Q: What are your thoughts about the rotation?
A: "(Michael) O'Neal needs to sit in the Saturday spot. He pitched on Saturday all year. That really is an accomplishment in and of itself. To hold that ground and have a winning record? I think he's going to be really good. I always like to throw my best guy on Saturday. Is he our best guy? I don't know for sure, but I know he threw real well last year on Saturday. If you lose on Friday, you've got to win on Saturday. If you win on Friday, you're able to win the series on Saturday."

Q: What about Friday and Sunday?
A: "There are some really good arms right there. We've probably got about six names that we really don't want to throw out there. Two of them are freshmen who could potentially fill the Friday and Sunday (spots). With mid-week games and the condensed schedule, you've got to win that mid-week game. We've got to have four guys in the rotation who can pitch and we've got to be able to back them up out of the bullpen. We have to find victory even on our mid-week games."

Q: Why is freshman Kevin Davis's arm hurting before throwing his first Auburn pitch?
A: "It's 168 innings. It's no fault to his coach, his summer league coach, all of the showcase, all of the recruiting he went through. Then he ended up getting to pitch for Team USA. We added up the innings and it was something like 168 innings. I don't know if (Tim Hudson) was on pace to throw that many innings last year before his injury. We shut him down; he had a little tenderness. We're going to be careful with him. He threw a bullpen on the game mound (Sunday). He's going to be just fine. He's going to compete for our rotation."

Q: How about Keegan Thompson? What are your expectations?
A: "He's shown us a glimpse of what Tim Hudson was back in the day. That's saying a lot. He can really swing the bat. He's not getting to swing it in the live-bat era like Tim Hudson did, but he's a big, strong guy who likes to attack the first pitch in the zone. I like his athleticism around first base and the way he competes on the mound.
He has a chance to be a freshman in our Friday night slot or maybe Sunday. So far, he's shown me that we need his bat in the lineup. If he gets that barrel going, that's going to be old school -- the old pitcher-slash-DH. Just let him go and have a nine-man lineup. "

Q: What have you seen out of your seniors so far?
A: "There's already three or four that I recognize wouldn't be back in a normal situation. The fact that we went through a transition and we still get these guys to come back and have a great attitude? Their effort has been outstanding. Those are the two things you control every day in your life. Our seniors have done a great job of that.
If Ryan Tella had played really well last year, he'd have been a high draft choice. The level he's playing at right now, he will be a high draft choice. The level that (Dan) Glenenyak is playing at shortstop -- he'll be a 20-round draft guy and have a chance to stay in professional baseball.
Big Blake Austin behind the plate. I've had some really good catchers (Jackson Williams was a first-round pick in 2007) -- but I'm not sure Big Blake doesn't throw the ball and hit better than he does. Blake really is that good. He committed to me at Oklahoma. On the drive back, he decided it was too far. He came back and told this coaching staff: 'Here's OU's offer; if you match it I'll come here.' Now I'm glad he did that. If I'd had him (at Oklahoma), I might have made it through the last two Super Regionals and had two more Omaha trips under my belt. We have him now, so let's go to Omaha with him this year."

Q: Are you looking at Terrance Dedrick as a two-way player?
A: "We've looked at him in the outfield. If he didn't pitch, he could win a starting job in the outfield. I'd like to get to a spot where we only ask him for three outs. No more than three outs. I've always depended on a bridge-the-gap guy. If you can get us to that sixth inning, 'Trey, go get the seventh and eighth' and TD can get the ninth. Then the other team says: 'That was a six-inning ball game. That wasn't very fun.' If we've got the lead in the fifth of sixth inning, we want to feel like the ball game is going to be over because we know how to defend and we'll flat pitch it very well."

Q: How have the retained coaches and staff (pitching coach Scott Foxhall and director of baseball operations Scott Duval) impacted the team? A: "It's by the grace of God and that I didn't mess it up in the flesh. Those guys did a tremendous job. You've got to give the former coaching staff some credit whether you like them or not. Those guys did a good job recruiting some really good student-athletes. One thing you'll never hear out of my mouth: 'When I get my guys.' These are my guys. We're going to win and we're going to win right now."

Q: Why did you cut through the left-field wall and make the bullpen visible?
A: "It's really nice. We cleaned it up and let them see their game as it's happening. They couldn't do that before. We wanted to punch a hole in the wall. We understand the tradition of the green monster, but Jay Jacobs recognized that I had my Skil saw ready to go. It's really a nice addition.
We want to be the best player-development program in the country. That's what it's really about. We've got to have the best development facility in the country and then we'll have the best coaches to develop that talent."

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