In what could be his last season at LSU, Jared Poche’ will throw the Tigers’ first pitch.
The Lutcher junior will start the Tigers’ Feb. 19 season opener against Cincinnati, LSU coach Paul Mainieri told The Advocate on Friday following the team’s scrimmage.
“It’s his third year, probably going to be his last year at LSU,” Mainieri said. “Number one, he’s earned and deserves that honor of starting on opening night. I think he’s an outstanding pitcher that’s a proven winner. We’re going to need him to win a lot of games this year to go where we want to go.”
Reigning National Freshman of the Year Alex Lange will throw Saturday, and Akron transfer John Valek III on Sunday. Mainieri said on Wednesday that no starting pitcher on opening weekend would go more than five innings, unless pitch counts were extremely low.
Poché started last season’s opener — a 4-1 victory against Kansas in which he threw six innings of two-hit baseball and didn’t allow a Kansas baserunner into scoring position. He touched 91 mph with his fastball in five scoreless innings of Friday’s scrimmage, in which he opposed Valek.
“I felt good,” Poché said following the outing. “It was definitely a good outing today to build on going into the season. I had a few rough ones early on. As far as confidence-wise, I’m definitely going into the season happy with it. I’m starting to have a feel for my pitches. Each time I’ve gone out there and got work in during the week, I’ve gotten better and better.
Lange, who will pitch Saturday at 2 p.m., has yet to lose a collegiate start and finished a stellar freshman season with a sub-2.00 ERA.
“When the other team knows they have to face a guy as good as Lange in game two, it keeps them from getting overconfident,” Mainieri said. “I remember when (Aaron) Nola used to pitch the first game of a weekend series, you could almost hear the coach telling their team after the game, after Nola beat them, ‘They don’t have anyone as good as that guy’, and it gave the other team a lift.’ ”
“I think if we can battle like Poché will and we win on a Friday night, then Lange is an asset.”
Valek, the slow-throwing senior, opposed Poché in Friday’s scrimmage, skirting around hard-hit balls and baserunners through four scoreless innings before Jake Fraley golfed an 84 mph, first pitch fastball into the right field bleachers for a three-run home run in the fifth inning.
The 42-game starter in three seasons at Akron, Valek faced Cincinnati as a sophomore, allowing eight runs — four of which were unearned — in four innings in an 8-5 loss.
Asked to reflect on opening nights of the past, Poché recalled three such outings at Lutcher High School and, of course, last season’s gem in Alex Box Stadium.
“I wasn’t really nervous (during) last year’s,” Poché said. “That’s not really me as far as when I’m playing baseball. I’ll definitely have a lot of adrenaline flowing. Be pumped up the first couple innings, but hopefully we can come out with a W.”