LSU has at least temporarily lost one of its highly touted freshman pitchers.
An elbow injury will keep Jake Latz from pitching during the first two weeks of the season, coach Paul Mainieri said Friday.
Latz, one of several rookies contending for a weekend starting spot, was evaluated by doctors Friday afternoon. He will be shut down for three weeks before being re-evaluated, Mainieri said. Latz will at least be unavailable for the Tigers’ three-game series against Kansas on Feb. 13-15, a midweek game against Nicholls State and the three-week set against Boston College.
The elbow flared up earlier this week, Mainieri said. It’s unclear whether it’s the same injury — a stress reaction — that forced Latz to miss fall practice. Mainieri received “moderately encouraging” news about the injury after doctors checked out Latz on Friday, but the pitcher will be sidelined until at least late February.
“We’re going to have to pull back the reins on him,” Mainieri said. “He was throwing good too and then he just didn’t feel quite right this week.”
For now, LSU’s weekend starting competition includes sophomore Jared Poché, senior Kyle Bouman and freshmen Alex Lange, Jake Godfrey and Doug Norman. Poché is scheduled to start opening night, but Mainieri has not decided on his Saturday and Sunday starters. He’ll announce that news early next week.
This is a crucial weekend for the pitchers. Bouman was set to throw Friday during a scrimmage. Lange will throw Saturday, and Godfrey throws Sunday. Norman is scheduled to throw Tuesday.
“(Latz’s injury) changes things a little bit, but not terribly,” Mainieri said of his starting weekend battle. “He was kind of fighting from behind anyway because he had missed fall practice.”
Lange, Godfrey, Latz and Norman were the headliners in LSU’s top-ranked signing class last year. Latz might have been the most highly touted of the four. He’s the highest drafted high school player who enrolled at a Division I school. He turned down about $900,000 by a major league club.
The 6-foot-2, 198-pound Illinois native has the most astonishing high school stat of all of the freshmen: He allowed two earned runs during his senior year.
Robertson to start at 2B
Mainieri has set his opening day lineup, and sophomore Kramer Robertson is in it.
Robertson will start the season at second base. Conner Hale will play first, and Danny Zardon will play third base with Kade Scivicque catching and Chris Chinea as the designated hitter.
Andrew Stevenson and Mark Laird are mainstays at center field and right field, but left field could be a revolving door between Jake Fraley and Jared Foster during the opening series. Laird is expected to leadoff in the batting order, and Bregman will bat second with Hale third, Mainieri said.
Robertson started 30 games last season, making a handful of snazzy plays mixed with costly errors. At one point, he was pulled from a nonconference game because of errors.
Robertson’s play at second base is key. If he struggles defensively, LSU will have to rearrange its infield, sliding Hale to second, Chinea to first and leaving a hole at designated hitter.
“I’m not going to jump off the bandwagon after three games if he doesn’t do great,” Mainieri said of Robertson, the son of Baylor women’s basketball coach Kim Mulkey. “He knows what we need out of him. We need great defense. Not only consistent defense but some spectacular defense. We need him to do some things offensively to make some things happen. Tough out. RBI guy.”
Mike Papierski could be the only freshman position player to get a start on the opening weekend. Mainieri plans to start Papierski at catcher in at least one of the three games against Kansas — “probably Saturday,” the coach said. … Hale has been wearing a protective cast on his left foot and ankle after taking a line drive off of his shin during the first week of practice. It is not considered a serious injury.
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @DellengerAdv.