BATON ROUGE, La. — LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri is making a move to relieve his relievers.
Mainieri is shifting freshman right-hander Zack Hess, who has served as the LSU baseball team’s midweek starter this season, into a bullpen role, effectively immediately and indefinitely. The intent of the move is two-fold. First, Mainieri wants to get as many of LSU’s best pitchers into the team’s most important games, but he also wants to get the Tigers’ less proven pitchers into games more often as a way of pushing them into a rhythm.
“Any criticisms that you might hear out there over the last few years is we haven’t developed a third starter,” Mainieri said. “This year we’ve developed a third starter and a nice fourth starter, but in a weird way I think it’s kind of hurt our bullpen. Those (starters) have pitched so many innings that I don’t think we’ve given our bullpen enough work. When you get to the bullpen, you’re not really sure who you can count on and who’s sharp.”
Hess has appeared in 8 games this year, 6 as a starter, posting a 3.81 ERA with 33 strikeouts and 12 walks. Because of Hess’ ability to work deep into his starts, Mainieri hasn’t been able to expose inexperienced relief pitchers, like Nick Bush for example, to game situations. As such, those players haven’t been able to get in rhythm.
The same phenomenon is true on the weekends. Starters Alex Lange, Jared Poché and Eric Walker all have been adept at working deep into starts this season, leaving Mainieri without an outlet to work out his relievers in low-leverage situations. As a result, late-inning throwers like Hunter Newman and Caleb Gilbert have only pitched with their backs against the wall.
“If you’re only putting guys in there when you need them, it’s hard to expect them to perform at a high level,” Mainieri said. “You see this even in the big leagues. If a guy doesn’t pitch for a long time, they get a bit rusty, their command gets a bit off. As a coach, as a manager, you’re not sure what you’re going to get out of them. So I think it’s my responsibility to make those guys get to the mound more frequently.”
Moving Hess will fix this dilemma on both ends. In the weekends, Hess will join the rotation with relied upon bullpen men like Newman, Gilbert and Matthew Beck, diversifying Mainieri’s options. But it’ll also free Mainieri to throw as many pitchers as he wants on midweek games.
Tuesday versus Grambling State, for example, Mainieri plans to start freshman Todd Peterson. But he said he expects to use as many as 10 pitchers to get the game done, including Hess and Gilbert in relief capacities. And for Hess, this will make him adjust his routine.
Before starts, Hess said he likes to get to the park and start warming up two hours before a game. But as a reliever, you don’t have the luxury of two hours of getting ready.
“The big thing is that there’s a little bit more uncertainty when you’re coming out of the bullpen,” Hess said. “You always have to be on your toes. I think that’s going to be the big thing, always being prepared at all times and being ready to come in.”
When Peterson, a former starter when he was in high school, was asked what advice he has for Hess in making the adjustment, he outlined a similar perspective.
“Just be ready throughout the whole game,” Peterson said. “Whenever coach calls on you, just get out there, have the mindset and stay ready throughout the game and be ready to win. I think the hardest part was just getting ready so quick. Whenever I’m called upon, I’m just going to go out there and do what I’ve got to do. But I adjusted pretty quick and thought I did pretty fairly.”