After Alex Lange’s laborious 121-pitch effort against Tennessee last Friday, Paul Mainieri planned to pitch him in Friday’s second game of LSU’s series against No. 1 Florida, giving him a sixth day of rest.
With aid from the rain, the power right-hander politicked his coach.
“I’m ready to go,” Lange said. “I want the ball. That’s my mentality, that’s how I’ve always been. I want the ball as much as possible.”
And so it was settled.
Changing his mind at noon Wednesday, Mainieri flipped Lange and junior college transfer Riley Smith in the weekend rotation, deciding to throw Lange on five days rest Thursday.
Smith will now make his first career SEC start Friday and southpaw Jared Poche in the final game Saturday.
“This is why we work hard starting in August, with conditioning, strength and arm care, is for this time of the year,” Lange said. “To be able to go out there, do that, and recover … It helps us to come to this time of the year to have that stamina and recovery to bounce back.”
“I’ve been ready to go, I’ve been locked in.”
Forecasts show a 90 percent chance of rain throughout Friday, when Lange was originally scheduled to pitch. Mainieri feared a postponement to Saturday would hinder Lange’s availability in the SEC Tournament, where LSU could begin play as early as Tuesday.
“It scared me that if we don’t play Friday, he has to pitch Saturday and he wouldn’t be able to pitch in the SEC Tournament until next Friday,” Mainieri said. “Who knows if you’re in the SEC Tournament next Friday? So you run the risk of playing a tournament without him pitching once.”
Smith threw six innings of four-hit baseball against Notre Dame last week in the first start of his LSU career, harnessing command of his 90-93 mph fastball to showcase a more refined secondary selection.
“That’s what we’ve been waiting for,” Mainieri said. “Finally, he’s healthy, he went out on the mound and looked like he was in total control. His stuff his good. This is the guy we recruited and this is the guy we’ve waited for all year. Time to put him out there.”
A four-pitch pitcher with just 14.2 innings of Division I experience, Smith pitches to contact with a slider, changeup and a putaway splitter that’s purred in his last two outings — 8.1 scoreless innings against Arkansas and Notre Dame.
Such a selection of offspeed pitches requires precise fastball command. Smith’s was absent in his early starts, outings more compounded by nagging shoulder soreness he’s now fully eradicated.
“Last year at (San Jacinto Junior College), I didn’t throw (the splitter) until the regional tournament and I had like eight strikeouts with it in that regional game,” Smith said. “Fastball’s always been my best commanded pitch, so I know I can throw the (splitter) for a strike. Now, I have my slider as a get-ahead pitch and it works.”
Smith estimated three of his four strikeouts at Notre Dame came on the splitter.
Florida’s missing ‘a dude’
Florida will be without its leading hitter, first baseman Peter Alonso, all weekend with a fractured metacarpal in his left hand.
“They still have a lot of great players, they’ll plug someone in there and be outstanding,” Mainieri said. “But, to me, Alonso’s a dude. He can really hit. He’s a guy that struck fear into you as an opposing team and you knew with one swing of the bat he could turn the game around.”
Alonso is the Gators’ leader in batting average (.352), slugging percentage (.581), home runs (9) and RBI (47).
Pitcher Doug Norman was LSU’s representative on the SEC Baseball Community Service Team released Wednesday. Norman attained 58 hours of community service hours during the year .... Mainieri said Jake Latz will likely be on the active roster for the weekend series. Latz threw a 20-pitch, 1-2-3 sixth inning in Tuesday’s 7-2 win against Northwestern State.
Follow Chandler Rome on Twitter @Chandler_Rome