LSU is one step closer to replacing its entire starting rotation.
Coach Paul Mainieri announced Zack Hess, the Tigers’ breakout star out of the bullpen at last summer's College World Series, will join Caleb Gilbert in the rotation when LSU opens its season against Notre Dame next month.
“Man, he looked like a big-league-ready relief pitcher out in Omaha,” Mainieri said of the sophomore right-hander. “And the temptation is certainly to keep him in that role. However, without having veteran starting pitchers, I just think you’ve got to take your best arm and see how many innings you can get out of him and see if he can impact the games in that way.”
Hess became a fan favorite in Omaha for his intense demeanor on the mound, as well as his powerful fastball.
Mainieri said Hess may have to lose some of his velocity and conserve energy to go deep into games as a starting pitcher.
Hess said he understands.
“I don’t think anyone taking the mound is trying to go out there and throw lollipops across the plate,” Hess said. “I definitely have the intent to throw hard and I’ll do the same thing this year. But it’s just going to be more controlled and keeping that intensity bottled up a little more to pace it out over the course of the game.”
Mainieri also said that if the season were to start now, Todd Peterson would be the No. 3 weekend starter — but Mainieri left room for change over the next few weeks. Junior college transfer Cam Sanders is also in the running for a starting spot.
Peterson might have been the starter for Game 1 of the College World Series finals against Florida, but conditioning was a concern late in the season.
Mainieri said he addressed those issues during the summer and fall.
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Finding a voice
Kramer Robertson won’t run onto the field at Alex Box Stadium this season.
The Tigers will miss their former shortstop, but his play won’t be the only thing LSU must replace.
As it stands, LSU has not found a voice on this year’s team to replace Robertson’s leadership.
“If I have a concern with our team, it’s who is going to be Kramer Robertson?” Mainieri said. “Who is going to be those kind of guys to speak up and take the lead when we need that to happen?”
Antoine Duplantis is an option for that role at first glance, but Mainieri said the junior outfielder isn’t as vocal as Robertson.
Hess could be another option, but moving into the starting lineup means he must focus on his own business.
Mainieri floated the idea of one or both of the Jordan brothers, Bryce and Beau, becoming vocal leaders but added they haven’t done it on a consistent basis.
The most optimistic possibility Mainieri proposed was a new player, either a transfer or freshman, assuming the vacancy similar to how former shortstop Alex Bregman did in 2013.
Bullpen on the mend
LSU is excited about the future of its pitching staff with the addition of Nick Storz, AJ Labas and Trent Vietmeier.
Mainieri might be more excited if any of those players were completely healthy.
The three right-handers are working their way back from various injuries. Storz had a bone spur on his shoulder that had to be shaved off; Labas had a back injury that required surgery over winter break; and Vietmeier who had his top rib removed because of thoracic outlet syndrome in his throwing arm.
According to the Mayo Clinic, thoracic outlet syndrome happens when blood vessels or nerves in the space between the collarbone and the first rib (thoracic outlet) are compressed.
Mainieri said the 6-foot-5, 255-pound Storz could be back on the mound by opening weekend, which begins Feb. 16.
Mainieri said Storz’s status may hinge on an intrasquad scrimmage before the season opener. He did not participate in fall practice.
“Wait until you see this guy,” Mainieri said. “That’s what they look like, if you know what I mean. ... This guy is special. The sooner we get to see what makes him special, as soon as the ball leaves his hand, the happier I’ll be.”
Labas is throwing again and Mainieri is optimistic about a speedy return. Vietmeier is expected to throw this weekend after missing the fall.
1: Josh Smith, SS
2: Zach Watson CF
3: Antoine Duplantis, RF
4: Hunter Feduccia, C
5: Bryce Jordan/Jake Slaughter
6: Daniel Cabrera, LF
7: Bryce Jordan/Slaughter
8: Beau Jordan, DH
9: Brandt Broussard, 2B