Jake Godfrey and Doug Norman felt like kids again.
The pair of LSU sophomore pitchers spent their summer playing ball in the Cape Cod League, which they both referred to as “less intense” than what they’re used to in Baton Rouge.
As a result, players aren’t as tense and have more freedom to make adjustments to their game.
“In the Cape, it’s not as a serious as a Division I program,” Godfrey said. “You’re still facing the same level of competition, but it’s got that laid-back feel.”
Godfrey and Norman were just two of many Tigers who experienced a more relaxed setting while fine-tuning their skills in various leagues throughout the summer. Though LSU coach Paul Mainieri said there’s no hiding the high expectations for his program, players benefit from competing in low-pressure games.
“It allows them to still be in the lineup whether the team is winning or losing, whether they’re playing well or not,” Mainieri said.
Junior outfielder Jake Fraley headlined the crop of Tigers playing summer ball with a .302 batting average and six extra-base hits through only 21 games. The leading hitter for the Cape Cod League’s Chatham Anglers, Fraley added three steals and 13 runs scored.
Godfrey, who pitched for the Anglers, recorded a 2.41 ERA through 18.2 innings, nearly halving his freshman ERA of 4.61. Norman hurled 15 strikeouts in 17.2 innings for the Bourne Braves.
Godfrey said he threw strikes more consistently during his time in Chatham, but both he and Norman focused on maintaining a strong mentality in crunch-time situations.
“I found myself finding different ways to get people out,” Norman said. “You can’t take the same approach for each hitter or each time through the lineup. I really strengthened my mental game. I was always trying to be two steps ahead of the hitters.”
Mainieri said he was pleased with “70 percent” of what he saw from Godfrey and Norman during summer ball. He said they still have room for growth, and it if happens quickly enough, the pair of sophomores should shore up a position of need for the Tigers.
LSU struggled to find a reliable midweek starter and third weekend starter behind Alex Lange and Jared Poché in 2015, an issue Mainieri wants to avoid this spring. Godfrey and Norman, who started nine and three games, respectively, vied for those positions last season without ever totally securing them.
The coach said “six or seven” guys, including Godfrey and Norman again, are in the hunt to fill those roles moving forward.
“There’s no denying the fact that we’re looking for a third and fourth starter, and those guys are really good candidates for those jobs,” Mainieri said. “They both pitched well enough to keep themselves right in the mix, but they still have a ways to go to show they can be counted on to perform on a consistent basis at the level that they need to.”
Even if Godfrey and Norman would have dominated in Cape Cod, Mainieri would not have guaranteed them starting spots. Players can’t win a starting job based solely on summer ball, Mainieri said, but their performances — good or bad — factor into the evaluation process.
The competition heats up soon. The Tigers will put the low-pressure feel of summer ball behind them and begin preparing for the upcoming season. The team begins individual drills Aug. 31, and the first official day of fall practice is slated for Sept. 27.
Summer ball results aren’t everything. Mainieri pointed to sophomore catcher Michael Papierski, who batted .156 and drove in only seven runs through 23 summer games, as a prime example.
“He ended up having about 125 at-bats this summer,” Mainieri said. “Even though his results weren’t great, he’s better now for having the experience under his belt.”