AUBURN | Mickey Dean made it clear during his introductory press conference that big changes were coming for a pitching staff that spent its entire Auburn career pitching to contact.
Dean, whose James Madison staff had 374 strikeouts last season, has a completely different plan for the Tigers.
“My philosophy is to strike everyone out,” Dean said Sept. 17.
Auburn’s staff combined for 239 strikeouts last year, which is less than JMU ace Megan Good, who finished 11th in the nation with 271.
Cody Voga/Auburn athletics
The transition for the Tigers’ pitchers began Wednesday with the opening of fall practice. Senior All-American Kaylee Carlson and junior Makayla Martin have been the backbone of the staff the past two seasons with the pair combining to go 47-11 with a 1.63 ERA in 2017.
“It's definitely a different model than we've had in the past. Corey (Myers) was all about letting hitters get themselves out so it's definitely a change of mindset,” Carlson said. “Now we have more of a role on the team. Instead of letting our defense make the plays we get to put in more effort and try to do things on our own too. I know I'm excited to see how it works out.”
With the start of the softball season still more than four months away, Dean is taking a methodical approach in coaxing more strikeouts from Carlson and Martin.
“We’re working on velocity and we’re working on endurance and we’ll do that for the next three weeks,” Dean said. “Then we’ll start working a great deal more on movement and location. They’ve embraced it and that’s what we’re going to do. That’s going to be our process.”
Building endurance means a lot more conditioning for Carlson, Martin and the entire pitching staff.
“In practice we have our little plan and every single day we're going to do running and hills and everything like that because with speed and more velocity, it takes a lot more out of you to be able to pitch that fast,” Carlson said.
When it comes time to focus on individual pitches, Carlson and Martin could feature more rise balls in their repertoire, a pitch that can be very effective for strikeouts but also produce a lot of walks.
Still, don’t expect Carlson or Martin to evolve into Florida’s Kelly Barnhill or Oklahoma’s Paige Parker — two of the nation’s top strikeout pitchers — overnight.
“He basically told me and Mak he wasn't going to try to change us much, just kind of improve what we have,” Carlson said. “We are older so it's more difficult for us to change something in a season than it is for a freshman who has four years to progress and get better every year.”