BATON ROUGE, La. — LSU baseball’s pitchers dominated Louisiana Tech in a 2-hitter on Tuesday night, and this included an appearance from a pitcher no one expected to see.
LSU defeated No. 25 Louisiana Tech 2-0 on Tuesday, riding 6 shutout innings from midweek starter AJ Labas and a 2-run sixth inning to victory. But the real intrigue of the game came in the top of the seventh when LSU turned to junior right-hander Caleb Gilbert out of the bullpen. Gilbert has started in every weekend series for LSU baseball this season, posting a 4.89 ERA in 38.2 innings pitched. Gilbert threw 1 inning on Tuesday, allowing no hits and striking out 1 in the process.
After the game, LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri made it clear that Gilbert’s move to the bullpen wasn’t a one-time deal.
“That’s been the plan since this weekend,” Mainieri said. “[Pitching coach Alan Dunn] and me talked about it, trying to get him back into a role that last year he was very successful in. We wanted to get him into the game tonight to try to flush what happened on Friday out of his mind. But he’s going to continue to pitch out of the bullpen for us.”
Per Gilbert, Mainieri said he likes being able to use Gilbert in a combo role for one inning or multiple innings when the Tigers have the lead as the Tigers were able to last season. As a sophomore in 2017, Gilbert was a bullpen ace on the Tigers’ College World Series runner-up squad. Gilbert posted a 2.16 ERA across 58.1 innings pitched with 67 strikeouts and a .190 batting average against. This included a dominant performance against Mississippi State in Game 2 of the Baton Rouge Super Regional to send the Tigers to Omaha and a stellar game against No. 1 Oregon State in the group round of the College World Series.
Gilbert’s last outing before Tuesday was a disastrous one. Pitching in College Station against Texas A&M, Gilbert allowed 5 runs on 6 hits in 0.2 innings before being removed. Gilbert has allowed a .338 batting average this season as a starter, more than 100 points higher than fellow weekend starters Zack Hess and Ma’Khail Hilliard’s marks.
“[Mainieri] told me on Sunday to be prepared to throw an inning or two on Tuesday,” Gilbert said. “I said ‘Yes sir’ and went out there and tried to put up a zero and really focused on working down and working low with the fastball trying to get some uncomfortable swings.”
As for the game itself…
Labas pitched as well as he has all season on Tuesday, holding Louisiana Tech to 2 hits with no walks or strikeouts in 6 innings. As per his regular routine, Labas pounded the zone with strikes, landing 44 strikes on 63 pitches. Of the 19 batters Labas faced, only two worked into 3-ball counts.
“Today I felt like normal again, finally,” Labas said. “I felt like my mechanics were there. Using my legs a lot more. I wasn’t flying open as much. I felt like today was back to where I was in the fall.”
Through five innings, Louisiana Tech’s David Leal was dueling evenly with Labas. Leal retired LSU’s first nine batters in order, carrying a perfect game into the fourth inning before centerfielder Zach Watson opened LSU’s offensive attack with a single. Two batters later, Louisiana Tech doubled Watson off at second base, keeping Leal’s workload at the minimum number of batters faced through four innings.
Watson had a chance to redeem himself in the sixth inning. With the score tied 0-0 and third baseman Jake Slaughter standing on second base, Watson laced his second single of the evening into left field, scoring Slaughter and giving the Tigers their first lead of the ballgame. Right fielder Antoine Duplantis singled Watson home two batters later to give the Tigers a second insurance run.
A native of Ruston, La., the town Louisiana Tech is located, Watson batted 2 for 4 with an RBI, a run and 2 stolen bases to lead LSU’s offense. With his single in the sixth inning, Watson improved his batting average with runners in scoring position to .400 on the season.
After Gilbert, LSU turned to sophomore left-hander Nick Bush, who walked 2 batters in a scoreless eighth inning. Senior Austin Bain moved from second base to pitcher to throw the ninth inning, inking his third save of 2018.
What’s next for LSU baseball?
LSU baseball returns to action on Friday for Game 1 of a three-game SEC series against Tennessee. The game is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. CT and will be available to stream online through WatchESPN.