BATON ROUGE, La. — When the LSU baseball team takes on Missouri at Alex Box Stadium on Friday night, get ready for some major-league velocity.
No. 16 LSU (12-6) hosts No. 24 Missouri (14-3) in a Tigers-versus-Tigers SEC opening weekend three-game series, beginning Friday with a marquee matchup between LSU’s Zack Hess and Missouri’s Bryce Montes de Oca.
Hess is LSU’s hardest-throwing starter, a sophomore right-hander who regularly touches 93-95 mph. But Montes de Oca is another animal, a 6-foot-7, 261-pound right-hander who touches 100 mph with his fastball and has the numbers to back up his stuff. Montes de Oca has a 1.57 ERA in 2018, 10th-best among SEC starters. He’s struck out 31 batters in 23 innings, led off the first seven innings of a combined no-hitter and has allowed only 9 hits all season.
Throughout its nonconference schedule, LSU has faced a repeated onslaught of soft-throwing pitchers, much to the annoyance of coach Paul Mainieri. To prepare for Montes de Oca, Mainieri said he and his coaches turned up the velocity on the pitching machine to 99-103 mph for batting practice, before eventually toning it down.
“This kid tomorrow night I heard touched 100 mph last week,” Mainieri said Thursday. “He’s got a no-hitter already to his credit. He’s special. He’s a big, strong guy who throws really hard.
“Saturday they’ve got a good left-handed pitcher we faced a couple years back when he was a freshman. And then they’ve got a senior starter on Sunday. Listen, Missouri’s got a really good ball club.”
If you’re planning on attending one of these games, be sure to make it to the park for the first inning. If you don’t, you might miss all the action.
LSU baseball and Missouri have scored in the first inning in a combined 15 straight games, seven for LSU and eight for Missouri. Humorously, Mainieri said he was aware of Missouri’s streak, but not his own team’s.
Either way, the Tigers are preparing for Missouri to try to jump out to a quick lead. Because of this, the first inning becomes a premium frame for LSU’s pitchers.
“I’ve been talking to [pitching coach Alan Dunn] and our pitchers about how important it is to go out and treat that first inning of each game like it’s the ninth inning against Oregon State in Omaha,” Mainieri said. “If you can shut them down early and get the lead, it changes the way the other team plays offense. I know it does when it happens to us in an adverse way.”
Turn and face the strange changes
The start of SEC play also marks the expansion of the SEC’s replay rules. For the first time, the SEC has expanded what coaches are allowed to challenge to be more similar to Major League Baseball rules in an experimental fashion. The following plays are now allowed to be reviewed:
- Forceouts/tagouts on the bases
- Whether a runner passed another runner and/or missed a base
- Hit by pitches
- Placement of runners after boundary calls
- Slide interference
These six new options add on to the six permanent review plays that were added in 2017: fair/foul judgments, home run judgments, catches in the outfield/infield, fan interference and home plate collisions.
Mainieri said he is happy to have the expansion of replay, but doesn’t know how often he’ll have to use his two challenges per game.
“That’s going to be something unique,” Mainieri said. “I talked to my good friend Brian O’Connor at Virginia. The ACC opened last weekend and they used the same rules, so I asked him if he challenged any calls. He said, ‘Yeah, three.’ I said, ‘How many of them did they change?’ He said zero. And he said one of the replays when he looked at it, they didn’t change it, but they should have.
“The only concern I have with it is the camera work going to be good enough to be definitive to change it? When you look at college football games or the College World Series, when they use 20-something cameras and they have super-slow motion, we’re not going to have that capability. We’re going to probably have six cameras and a monitor back in the umpires room for them to look at. So you hope that on certain plays it’ll be a little more obvious. But we’re going to have to post some charts in the dugout to remind me what calls I can challenge and what calls I can’t.”
Coaches will be afforded two challenges per game. Unlike in football, a successful challenge does not reset review opportunities. Even if you win your challenge, you don’t get it back.
And no, coaches don’t have to throw red flags in baseball. All they have to do is get the umpire’s attention within 30 seconds of the end of a play. Coaches are not allowed to watch replays or have monitors in their dugouts, but they can consult with their assistants and players.
What’s happening with LSU baseball this series?
LSU baseball hosts Missouri at 6:30 p.m. Friday, 6 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday (all times CT). For information on how to watch and stream the series opener, click here.