BATON ROUGE, La. — The LSU baseball team is going to need just about all the production it can get from its starting pitchers this weekend. Maybe more.
LSU opens SEC play Friday night with the beginning of a three-game home series versus Georgia at Alex Box Stadium. For the Tigers (13-5, 0-0 SEC), the biggest story heading into the series is what coach Paul Mainieri will do with his bullpen after a string of injuries and long midweek games leave him shorthanded on all fronts.
Mainieri announced Thursday that the Tigers will be without closer Hunter Newman for at least the next two weeks, meaning LSU will have to play without its closer and setup man (Doug Norman, out with elbow surgery) for the foreseeable future. Compound that with the fact that LSU used every available bullpen arm it had this week between Tuesday’s win against Louisiana College and Wednesday’s 15-inning loss to New Orleans and that’s putting a lot of responsibility on the Tigers’ three starting pitchers.
Luckily for Mainieri and LSU baseball fans everywhere, if this season’s been any indication, those three starters are up to the task.
Friday starter and projected first-round MLB Draft pick Alex Lange is coming off his best start of the season last week, having thrown eight shutout innings in which he allowed 2 hits, struck out 9 and walked none. And Sunday starter Eric Walker spun himself a gem last week, too, throwing six shutout innings to help LSU sweep Wichita State.
But all eyes will rightfully be on LSU Saturday starter Jared Poché. Poché has been one of the biggest stories in college baseball this season, opening the year by throwing 29 consecutive scoreless innings, including a 7-inning no-hitter to start the season and an eight-inning one-hitter in his following start. Last time out, Poché allowed 3 hits in seven shutout innings in a win against Wichita.
Of course, it would be ridiculous to expect Lange, Poché and Walker to each through complete game shutouts this weekend. The Tigers will have to rely on their bullpen, especially sophomore Caleb Gilbert, who is sliding into the closer’s role for Newman. LSU will also get some bullpen relief from midweek starter Zack Hess, who Mainieri will likely throw in relief of Walker on Sunday or Poché on Saturday. Hess and Gilbert have combined to allow 8 runs in 33.2 innings pitched this season for an ERA of 2.14.
In Georgia (8-10, 0-0 SEC), LSU faces an opponent that has struggled to find rhythm in the early going. Georgia has lost series to opponents such as College of Charleston and Rider but also scores 7 or more runs every third game.
LSU baseball this weekend
Projected starting lineup
LSU: Alex Lange — 3-1, 3.05 ERA, 29:5 K/BB
UGA: Andrew Gist — 0-0, 2.20 ERA 21:2 K/BB
LSU: Jared Poché — 4-0, 0.00 ERA, 18:2 K/BB
UGA: Tony Locey — 2-2, 7.47 ERA, 15:122 K/BB
LSU: Eric Walker — 2-0, 2.14 ERA, 22:5 K/BB
UGA: Chase Adkins — 3-0, 2.08 ERA, 20:8 K/BB
LSU baseball vs. Georgia
Where: Alex Box Stadium, Baton Rouge, La.
When: Friday at 7 p.m., Saturday at 6:30 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m.
Watch: SEC Network Plus and WatchESPN
Listen: LSU Sports Radio Network and 98.1 FM Baton Rouge