Developing a weekend pitching rotation gives managers two choices— throw their best arm on Friday night to start the series with a likely win, or save that arm until Saturday where a series win or loss could be at stake.
LSU coach Paul Mainieri faced such a quandary, ultimately deciding to throw veteran Jared Poche’ on opening night, saving reigning National Freshman of the Year Alex Lange -- undefeated as a collegian and whom many hail as LSU’s best pitcher -- for the Tigers’ second game against Cincinnati on Feb. 20.
“There’s another school of thought that you go with your best guy on Friday night. I use the term ‘best’ not to say that Lange is better than Poche’, because Poche’ is an outstanding pitcher,” Mainieri said. “In no way would I ever look at (Poche’) pitching on Friday night is like you’re conceding a game. He’s going to battle and he’s won 18 games in two years, this guy is a proven winner in SEC baseball.”
“For this first weekend, the reason I’m doing it is I think he deserves the honor of pitching the opening game of the season.”
Mainieri was adamant this rotation -- which also features Akron transfer John Valek III on Sunday -- isn’t the Tigers’ plan for the entire season. Potential third starters Riley Smith and Austin Bain are both coping with shoulder issues -- Bain still trying to regain his form after fall surgery and Smith dealing with non-serious soreness that shut him down for the Tigers’ final two weekend scrimmages.
The fact remains, too, that both Poche’ and Valek III are left-handed. Splitting their starts with the power righty Lange gives LSU a vastly different look in all three games.
“That was a little bit of thought as well,” Mainieri said. “I thought about that too to a little bit of a degree, keeping (Cincinnati) a little off-balance.”
‘Outside chance’ Smith throws in opening series
Mainieri is hopeful Smith, the junior college transfer still very much in play for a rotation spot, could throw a bullpen on Thursday or Friday, with an “outside chance” he pitches an inning Feb. 21 against Cincinnati in the series finale.
Smith had a bout of shoulder soreness earlier this week that a doctor diagnosed as nothing serious. Mainieri said he’ll rest this weekend before attempting the bullpen.
If Smith can’t throw a bullpen by then, Mainieri said he’ll hold him until the team’s first midweek game -- a Feb. 24 trip to Lamar where Bain will likely get the start.
Latz plays catch
Jake Latz played catch on Friday -- his first baseball activities since his Nov. 9 elbow surgery.
The team awaited word from a Detroit doctor to sign off and, when it was cleared, Latz threw prior to Friday’s practice. He returned to the dugout to high fives and smiles from his teammates.
Mainieri and Latz are “holding out hope” for a late April return to the mound for the prized redshirt freshman.
Follow Chandler Rome on Twitter @Chandler_Rome