The LSU baseball team has four games left in the regular season, and nothing that happens in those games will affect the West Division champion Tigers’ No. 2 seeding in next week’s Southeastern Conference tournament.
It’s also highly unlikely that anything that happens this week or next can prevent LSU from being a national seed in the NCAA tournament in two weeks.
“These games don’t have a bearing on a lot standing wise, so most people might say they don’t really mean anything, but they really do,” Tigers coach Paul Mainieri said before practice Monday. “It allows us to prepare our team in an optimal way to be ready for the postseason.”
To that end, Mainieri said in these games — the final nonconference game against the University of New Orleans on Tuesday and the final SEC series against Ole Miss beginning Thursday — he will play every player on his 27-man active roster at some point with one notable exception — ace right-hander Aaron Nola.
Mainieri said Nola’s next start will come next Wednesday in the Tigers’ first game in the SEC tournament. That will give him 11 days between starts after Nola showed signs of fatigue in the final inning of a six-inning stint at Texas A&M on Friday. That start came after four consecutive complete games.
“When I saw a little bit of dropoff in his velocity in that last inning,” Mainieri said, “it gave me enough of a concern that I thought the best thing for this kid’s long-term health and for our team is, let’s give him a break.
“I think it will rejuvenate him a little bit, put a little more life in his arm and hopefully carry him through as we go through the NCAA tournament.
“His biggest starts are ahead of him.”
Nola has thrown 95 innings, which is six more than he threw as a freshman last season and twice as many as he ever threw in a high school season, Mainieri said.
“I haven’t thrown this much ever,” Nola said. “(Mainieri) is doing what’s best for my body. I get a good bit of rest now, and I’m going to feel great going into the SEC tournament.
“(Last Friday) was the most fatigued I’ve been all year. I’ve pitched in different weather conditions. It was cold the weekend before that, and (Friday) the heat was there.”
Cody Glenn will make his third consecutive Thursday start against the Rebels, Kurt McCune will take Nola’s turn and Ryan Eades will stay in the Saturday spot.
Mainieri plans liberal use of his bullpen, beginning Tuesday when freshman right-hander Hunter Newman will make the start. The bullpen needs work after just six of the Tigers 11 pitchers got opportunities last weekend.
“I don’t want to do that again,” Mainieri said. “We need to get all these guys pitching because we’re going to need them in the SEC tournament. Hopefully, we’re going to have a lengthy stay there, and we could perhaps need them in the NCAA tournament. And I just can’t ask them to perform at a high level if I don’t use them in these games.”
Newman is 1-0 with a 2.63 ERA in 13.2 innings over nine appearances. His only start came in his last outing when he got the win by throwing three scoreless innings, allowing two hits and striking out one against McNeese State on April 30.
“I’m more confident. I’m not scared anymore,” Newman said. “I was a little timid when I first came in here.”
LSU (45-7) will set a school record for wins in a 56-game regular season with one more victory.