Cody Greenhill Auburn pitcher

Russellville's Cody Greenhill ranks sixth on Auburn's all-time saves list, but the Tigers plan to make him a starter in 2021. [CAT WOFFORD/AUBURN ATHLETICS]

AUBURN — Cody Greenhill didn’t get his hopes up that he would hear his name called in the baseball draft earlier this month, not after it was shortened from the usual 40 rounds down to five.

Besides, he already had his mind set on returning to Auburn for his senior season.

But not necessarily as the team’s closer, a role the right-hander they call “Bull” has excelled in during the past three seasons. The plan is for Greenhill to transition out of the bullpen and into a starting rotation that lost ace Tanner Burns and left-hander Bailey Horn in the draft.

“I make a full commitment where I want Cody Greenhill to get that opportunity to start. He’s always wanted to do that,” head coach Butch Thompson said. “I think it’s time.”

The 6-foot-4 Russellville native has a career 2.59 ERA and 116 strikeouts in 128 2/3 innings over 53 appearances. His 19 career saves rank sixth in program history.

Auburn, perhaps unknowingly at the time, already took the first step to prepare him for that transition, too. The coaching staff had attempted to have Greenhill make multiple appearances in a weekend series during the 2018 and 2019 seasons. Greenville's velocity and effectiveness diminished the second time out.

With that, the coaching staff decided to limit him to one longer outing per weekend in 2020.

Greenhill made only four appearances before pandemic ended the 2020 season. He allowed only five hits and one walk over 12 2/3 scoreless innings, striking out 17.

“I think he has the chance to be really good,” pitching coach Tim Hudson said. “Cody Greenhill is a guy, who, I mean, when you hang around him more, it’s like, ‘This guy, can he get any better? Can the package get any better?’ You see him on the field and you see him off the field and you’re like, ‘Man, this kid, it’s too good to be true.’ But that’s him.”

There are adjustments that need to be made when going from the back end of the bullpen to the front end of the rotation. The first is in mentality on the mound.

“For me closing, I felt like I was the last resort, like I’ve got to get it done. I’d say it’s not a cockiness, but it’s a confidence of, ‘Hey, I’m the guy and I’m going to show you why I’m the guy,’” Greenhill said Friday. “When you’re starting, you’ve got guys behind you that, if you get in trouble, are coming in.”

Greenhill knows he needs to diversify his pitch mix, too. Hudson described the right-hander as “probably 90% fastball” — which sits in the mid- to upper-90. That can work in relief because a reliever won't face a batter more than once. As a starter, Greenhill wants to utilize his change-up more.

It’s to his benefit. A starting pitcher with a three- to four-pitch mix will have a much higher draft ceiling, but Greenhill isn’t coming back just to raise his draft stock.

“I want my season to end in Omaha this year,” he said. “Personally, I want to do something special and give back to the Auburn community for all the support that they’ve given us. I feel like we owe it to them. And I feel like this year is a good year to do it.”

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