LSU will play its first road game of the season when it travels to Louisiana-Lafayette to play the Ragin’ Cajuns at 6 p.m. Tuesday.
The new environment will be a test for the Tigers’ first-year players as well as sophomore left-handed starter Cody Glenn. The game also will feature the season debut of reliever Nick Rumbelow, who has been sidelined with a muscle strain in his side.
So, all things considered, this game figures to be a better gauge than the second midweek game of a season usually is.
It will be the Tigers’ first visit to Lafayette in 11 years.
“I’m sure it’s going to be a very raucous crowd,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “I’m sure they’ll be as sky high as possible. That will present its own challenge. I’m looking forward to throwing our team into that environment and seeing how they handle it.”
That’s especially true of Glenn, who couldn’t hang on to the midweek starter’s job last season but pitched well in his debut this year. He gave up three hits and one unearned run in five innings of an 8-1 victory against Lamar on Feb. 19.
“It’s going to be hugely important for him to get us off to a good start,” Mainieri said. “You go into an environment like that, the last thing you want to do is dig yourself a hole. So hopefully he’ll come out there and pump a lot of strikes.”
Glenn walked two and struck out five last week in getting a no-decision. Mainieri said Rumbelow will be the first Tiger out of the bullpen.
Rumbelow is expected to throw an inning. He was sidelined during preseason practice after feeling “a nagging pain” in his side while throwing in the bullpen before the Tigers’ first intrasquad scrimmage last month.
Once the muscle healed, Rumbelow gradually worked his way back, pitching bullpen sessions, then throwing a simulated game Friday.
“I’m ready to go,” he said. “I want to go out and compete. Mentally, I can’t say I’m two or three weeks behind. You just have to brainwash yourself and say you didn’t miss any time.”
Rumbelow went through a similar experience last season when he strained a leg muscle early in preseason practice, though he was ready for the start of the season.
“I was kind of prepared and knew how to take this injury,” Rumbelow said. “The second time around, you’re better prepared mentally to deal with it.”
Rumbelow, a junior from Bullard, Texas, didn’t have a decision last season even though he had the third-most appearances (29) on the staff. His ERA was 3.65, and he had 14 walks and 34 strikeouts in 242?3 innings. He’s expected to be one of the key relievers this season.
Chris Cotton has taken on the closer’s role, and Joey Bourgeois has been the primary setup guy, but Kurt McCune’s absence for at least another month leaves room in short relief.
“Our coaching staff does a great job of laying things out for us, and we’re a close-knit pitching staff. So we go out there, and it doesn’t matter who throws the seventh, eighth, ninth,” Rumbelow said. “We’re just going out there and throwing and competing. I don’t feel like I’m behind, and I don’t believe the coaching staff thinks I’m behind either. I think it’s going to work out the way it’s supposed to.”
LSU discontinued the series with ULL after the 2002 season in the wake of a heated regional at Alex Box Stadium in which the Tigers beat the Cajuns 12-2 twice on the final day to claim the title.
One player from each team and ULL coach Tony Robichaux were ejected from the first game. The emotions carried over into a softball regional in Lafayette in which LSU was competing in front of a hostile crowd.
Mainieri said when he took over as coach after the 2006 season, he extended “an olive branch” to Robichaux, who accepted it.
The series resumed in 2008 with LSU winning 5-3 at Alex Box. The teams have met in Baton Rouge in each season since and played a second game at Zephyr Field in 2009.
Now the Tigers’ annual rotation of in-state road games lands at M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field, which is sold out.
ULL is slated to start left-hander Cody Smith, who pitched for Baton Rouge Community College last season. … Mainieri said Cotton will stay in the bullpen and not double as the Sunday starter, as the coach had planned before injuries hit the bullpen. … Mainieri said if Glenn throws “a gem” Tuesday, he’ll be in competition with Sunday starter Brent Bonvillain for the weekend role.