BATON ROUGE, La. — On its way back to Baton Rouge from Starkville, Miss. over the weekend, the LSU baseball team’s bus stopped for gas.
While the bus was stopped, freshman pitcher Todd Peterson went into the gas station to buy some snacks for the rest of the ride back. As he waited in line, LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri snuck up behind him and asked him a simple question: Would Peterson be ready to start LSU’s first game in the SEC Tournament?
Peterson didn’t have the right words, but he accepted.
“I was really excited,” Peterson said. “I was kind of in shock. But I’m ready to get it done.”
Peterson (3-1, 3.98 ERA) will make the fourth start of his LSU career Wednesday when the Tigers open play in the SEC Tournament. Win or lose, Mainieri will go from Peterson on Wednesday to ace junior Alex Lange on Thursday, keeping him on regular rest heading into the NCAA Tournament next week.
LSU’s third game, should it have one, will belong to senior Jared Poché. If LSU wins both Wednesday and Thursday, that start will come on Saturday. If the Tigers lose one of the first affairs, Poché will pitch on Friday.
Freshman Eric Walker will be LSU’s fourth starter this weekend, again preserving regular rest. Mainieri did not divulge who LSU’s fifth starter would be were the team to play five games. If that is the case, Peterson will have had three days of rest and probably could throw again, but definitely not as long as a starter is generally asked to go.
As for his guaranteed outing, Peterson is confident he can carry over the success he had last week versus Northwestern State, when he struck out 6 batters and allowed 1 run in 5 innings. Peterson said his success in that start came from slowing down mentally and focusing on each pitch situationally, especially on commanding his fastball.
This is something LSU catcher Michael Papierski noticed.
“He came out and threw really well,” Papierski said. “He showed fastball command, threw his breaking ball for a few strikeouts. And he came out and showed Coach that he has potential on the mound.”
With how well Lange has thrown over the last month, it was hard for Mainieri to not throw his ace Day 1. But Mainieri is in a weird juggling position with this week’s SEC Tournament. He wants to lead his team to victory and secure an SEC title as well as a national seed. But he doesn’t want to throw his rotation off schedule when regionals are just a week away.
And given that Lange has thrown 2 complete games and a 120-pitch outing in his last three starts, keeping the workhorse on regular rest probably isn’t a bad plan.
“It’s no secret that he’s worked really hard the last three weeks,” Mainieri said. “Last week was probably the most pitches he’s ever thrown for us. Before that he had two complete games. I just feel at this time of year, the prudent thing to do was to give him proper rest. It also closes the gap a little bit between the start of Hoover and the start of the NCAA Tournament.”
LSU baseball’s first game in the SEC Tournament is Wednesday and likely will begin around noon CT. The game will be broadcast on the SEC Network and available for stream through WatchESPN.