HOOVER, Ala.—Auburn and Alabama cruised through the first game of the Southeastern Conference tournament in a brisk two hours, 12 minutes this morning. Afterward, a reporter asked Tigers coach John Pawlowski if the experimental 20-second pitch count in effect had anything to do with the quick pace.
"I don't think it was even a factor," Pawlowski said.
No, but Jimmy Nelson sure was. Alabama's hulking righthander dominated in his third consecutive complete game, allowing just one run on five hits and no walks while striking out six in a 7-1 win. He needed just 97 pitches, and his efficiency was a big reason for his success, as well as for the fast pace of the game.
"Nelson for the third start in a row was just outstanding," Crimson Tide coach Mitch Gaspard said. "He had all three pitches working today, and really set the tempo early. Ninety-seven pitches in a complete game against a team as offensive as Auburn just doesn't happen very often . . . The way he's done it, he has not gone over 125 pitches to throw three complete games. And today with 97 pitches—that's a guy with really good stuff, with confidence, really executing his pitches."
Nelson said he tried to use Auburn's aggressiveness to his advantage by getting ahead of hitters, which helped him keep his pitch count down. He dominated mostly with an 89-92 mph fastball and an 81-84 slider, but he mixed in about 10 changeups to lefthanded hitters.
Nelson's draft stock continued to climb (perhaps into the supplemental first round), and he helped himself plenty today in front of hordes of scouts. It hasn't always been smooth sailing for Nelson, but he is peaking at the right time—just like the Tide.
"We were sitting there two weeks ago at 10-15 and really felt like we had to win 15 games to make this tournament, and we reeled off five in a row," Gaspard said. "I really thought today was the best we've played, particularly against Auburn. We're playing a lot more like what I thought our team would be. This is a talented team that kind of dredged through the regular season but really seems to be clicking at the end."
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