HOOVER, Ala.—Remember this morning when Auburn coach John Pawlowski said the 20-second pitch clock here at the SEC tournament was not even a factor? In the second game Wednesday, it might have been more of a factor than anyone realized.
Mississippi lefthander Drew Pomeranz had his best outing in a month, according to Rebels coach Mike Bianco, in a 3-0 win against South Carolina. Pomeranz scattered six hits and a walk while striking out seven over seven shutout innings.
Pomeranz said after the game that he was struggling to find his rhythm over the last month. He sure found it today—with a little help.
"I actually kind of liked the clock being like that. I felt like I needed to speed up my rhythm," Pomeranz said. "I don't know if it kind of forced me to, but it was in the back of my mind. My tempo was a little more upbeat than it had been the last couple weeks, so I actually kind of liked the clock."
Pomeranz said yesterday he is back to full strength after pitching through a mild strain in his pectoral muscle over the last few weeks. He worked in the 89-92 mph range with his fastball today, effectively mixing in his 78-79 mph knuckle curveball and 80-84 changeup.
He improved to 8-2, 2.21 with 134 strikeouts and 46 walks in 94 innings and extended his scoreless streak against South Carolina to 14. Freshman closer Brett Huber followed with two scoreless frames to complete the first shutout against the Gamecocks in 154 games, dating back to a loss to Georgia in 2008. Opponents are hitting just .190 off Pomeranz, who is 12 strikeouts shy of tying Lance Lynn's single-season school record.
"When you look at his numbers and the number of hits he allows per inning, you look at that and say, 'How do you win?' The only way is to make him work and get him out of the game earlier," South Carolina coach Ray Tanner said. "He was pretty sharp with his control. I know there are times he's thrown harder, but what did he walk, one guy? He was moving the fastball around, in and out, mixing the breaking ball and changuep. He was very good, and that's why he was SEC pitcher of the year."
It's easy to forget that Pomeranz had a pitcher-of-the-year-caliber season given his last month, which was not bad but was also not dominant like his first half. But today, Pomeranz reminded the flocks of assembled scouts why he's a consensus top five overall draft pick, and reminded the nation why he's still on the short list of candidates for national player of the year honors.
"He's had a tremendous year," Bianco said. "He's had some games where he's just absolutely dominated. Today he might not have had the strikeout numbers he had in some other games, but this was a very good team. This was as sharp as he's been in the last month. Because he is such a high-profile guy, such a high prospect for the draft, everybody is super critical of everything—if he throws a ball under 90 miles an hour or walks a guy. To walk in his shoes must be very difficult for a 21-year-old kid. But we've had several guys like that over past few years, and he handles it as well as anybody."
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