AUBURN, Alabama—A veteran pitching coach before he took over the reins of the Auburn baseball program, Butch Thompson is still very invested in his players and knows the importance of being able to pitch at a high level. Sometimes big changes are needed to get guys to reach their potential, but sometimes it’s just a suggestion that can make a huge difference.
That was the case on Sunday night with junior RHP Mason Barnett struggling to settle into a groove early against UCLA. Looking for something to help his power right-hander get down in the zone, Thompson made a suggestion that was a key to perhaps the best career outing for the Cartersville, Georgia native in maybe the biggest situation of his career.
Forced to move into several different roles last season when Cody Greenhill, Jack Owen and Richard Fitts all dealt with injuries, Barnett was never able to settle in following a Covid-shortened 2020 season.
“One, it speaks to his development and that’s true development,” Thompson said. “That was a tough year when the three oldest guys, the three alpha-males go down last year and he’s thrust in. There were some tough days and lessons. To see somebody not only start for you in a Regional championship game, but give you the best effort they’ve ever given you, that’s development.
Taking the mound against a talented UCLA squad, Barnett ran into trouble right away when leadoff man Cody Schrier doubled on the first pitch he saw. In what would be a sign of things to come, the hard-throwing Cartersville, Georgia product struck out the next three batters to keep the Bruins off the board.
In the second inning, Barnett again ran into trouble when he walked the first two UCLA batters. Once again he would answer the bell, striking out Carson Yates for the first out. Facing Kenny Oyama, Barnett got a fly ball to center that Kason Howell ran down for out number two. In keeping with the theme of the night, Barnett struck out Darius Perry to end the inning.
That’s when Thompson’s advice came into play.
“We went out for the fourth inning and I asked him to just start the inning from the stretch, and the walks went away,” Thompson said. “They were not on the fastball anymore and he absolutely rolled the fourth, fifth and into that sixth inning. They got electric.
“He has the metrics of a major league pitcher. He had four pitches last night that he showed — a changeup, a slider, the big curveball that everybody can notice and then a mid-90’s fastball. It’s nice to see him as he’s probably a draft and probably moves on and did nothing but cemented himself with that outing at this time, this stage and showing a ton of development. I couldn’t be happier for Mason.”
Doing his part to help the Tigers win a regional and advance to the super regional round for the third time in five seasons, Barnett said he couldn’t imagine a better feeling following the celebration on Monday.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “Just being in every role this year and getting the call in the championship game is something you dream about. It was just fun to be able to do it.”