Southern baseball team at full strength for series at Auburn _lowres

Advocate file photo by A.J. SISCO -- Southern left-hander J'Markus George will start Friday's game at Auburn.

J’Markus George has done a good job of getting Southern off to good starts on the weekend.

Now the next step for him is to get off to better starts in games.

The junior left-hander from Atlanta will take his traditional Friday night turn when the Jaguars open a weekend series against Texas Southern at 6 p.m. at Lee-Hines Field. He has three wins and a no-decision in his starts since Southwestern Athletic Conference play began.

“We’ve had a chance to win all our Friday games,” Southern coach Roger Cador said. “J’Markus has done everything we could have asked of him. He’s gone deep into the games, which has saved our bullpen.”

George (3-2, 3.53) has gone at least six full innings in each of his last four starts, including a complete-game victory against Prairie View three weeks ago. But he has allowed at least one first-inning run in three of his six starts, including three against Arkansas-Pine Bluff last weekend.

“Most of the time in the first inning I’m trying to figure out what’s working for me that day, where my release point is and the umpire’s strike zone,” George said. “I’ve made some mistakes, and people have taken advantage of it.

“I have to find it in the bullpen and be ready when the game starts instead of making adjustments and figuring it out in the game.”

Adapting has been one of the best things George has done as he has been successful — even though half of the 28 runs he has allowed have been unearned.

“The key is, he has been resilient,” Cador said. “He’s competitive and he has had to understand that errors are a part of the game — that’s why they put them on the scoreboard.

“You still have to pitch. If you keep pitching well, at some point in time the team is going to rally around you and score some runs.”

Cador and George both said a turning point for the pitcher came during an 18-6 loss at Auburn on Feb. 26 — even though George got the loss in a game in which the Jaguars committed six errors. He allowed 10 runs, but just three were earned, and he battled through the fifth inning.

“That game gave me confidence,” George said. “I learned not to worry about things I can’t control. You just have to focus on making the pitches to get out of the inning.”

George hasn’t lost since then, and he ranks third in the SWAC with 41 strikeouts, including 14 against Prairie View and 12 against Grambling.

Cador said a key for George has been his ability to throw his changeup for strikes. George will have an opportunity to increase his strikeout total against a Tigers team that has struck out more times (225) than any other team in the SWAC.

But George will be challenged when the Tigers get on base. They lead the country with 68 stolen bases, and Southern’s starting catcher, senior Jose de la Torre, will miss Friday’s game. De la Torre went home to Puerto Rico to attend to a family matter and isn’t scheduled to return until late Friday.

Texas Southern (10-13, 4-5), the preseason pick to win the SWAC, has won its last three games but hasn’t played since an 8-6 victory against Wiley on March 23. The Jaguars (8-14, 3-5) were run-ruled by Southeastern Louisiana, 18-2 in 6½ innings, on Tuesday night in Hammond.

Follow Les East on Twitter, @EastAdvocate.