A couple of weeks ago, LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri pulled aside pitcher Jared Poché for a brief conversation about something that happened about nine months ago.
In the final game of the Baton Rouge regional last year, Mainieri chose not to use Poché, on just two days of rest, in an elimination game against Houston. LSU’s group of young relief pitchers struggled, and the Tigers lost in a stinging season-ending defeat.
“It was a couple of weeks back. He told me that he could have brought me back for that,” Poché said Thursday, “but he’s just kind of looking out for my future.”
Poché gets his shot Friday night to face a Houston lineup he never got the chance to pitch against in June.
The Tigers (12-1), on a nine-game winning streak and ranked as high as No. 2 nationally, meet the Cougars, 8-5 and No. 8 in one poll, at Minute Maid Park. It’s the prime-time nightcap of the opening day of the Houston College Classic.
LSU plays Houston (7:30 p.m. Friday), Baylor (3:30 p.m. Saturday) and Nebraska (11 a.m. Sunday) in a six-team event that also includes Texas A&M and Hawaii. All LSU games are scheduled to air on Cox Sports Television.
This is the first time LSU has spent a weekend away from home in the opening month of the season since 2007. It’s the first true test of the season before Mainieri’s club hosts Ole Miss next weekend to open SEC play.
The Tigers get a rematch with a Cougars team that won the Baton Rouge regional last season before playing Baylor (6-5), a middling Big 12 squad, and a Nebraska team (6-4) that began the season ranked No. 23 in one poll.
The focus, of course, is on the Cougars. They beat LSU 5-4 on Sunday night of the Baton Rouge regional in June to push the event into a decisive match. Houston then rolled up 12 hits in a 12-2 win the next day against a Tigers pitching staff that ran out of gas.
They didn’t have Poché.
While Houston decided to use a pitcher on two days of rest, LSU did not.
In the 12-2 win, Houston relief pitcher Jared Robinson struck out eight and threw five innings of hitless ball. Robinson threw 100 pitches in the game after tossing 91 in Friday’s opening day of the regional.
Poché threw 78 pitches on that Friday in a regional-opening win over Southeastern Louisiana.
“I’m not going to knock any other coach for how they run their team,” Mainieri said Thursday. “They have every right to run their team however they want to. Me? It’s just something I have a conscience about in the sense that if a kid were to get hurt coming back on short rest and ruin his career, I’d have a tough time living with myself.”
Poché said he “felt pretty good” on that Monday of the elimination game, and Mainieri admits the pitcher would have likely agreed to throw if Mainieri asked him.
“He was on two days rest,” Mainieri said. “I didn’t think it was a appropriate. He had worked real hard on that Friday game. I just didn’t want to bring him back.”
Said Poché: “Their guy came back, threw 200 pitches that weekend. I don’t know about that.”
Poché gets his shot now against a Houston team that hasn’t necessarily lived up to the preseason hype. The Cougars began the season in the top 5 in some rankings. They won a three-game series against Alabama, but split four games against Columbia and lost, most recently, to Houston Baptist in a midweek match.
For LSU, it’s a chance for revenge against a squad that stormed out of the losers bracket at the Baton Rouge regional to become one of three nonLSU squads to win regionals at Alex Box Stadium.
“Last year was last year,” shortstop Alex Bregman said. “They’re a good team. They were a good team last year. They deserved to win.”
Houston will start pitcher Andrew Lantrip (3-0, 0.46 ERA), the same guy who started that decisive regional game last year. LSU got four hits in 2.2 innings against Lantrip before Robinson relieved him and picked up the win.
LSU could see Robinson again. The splitter-throwing relief pitcher has a 0.90 ERA in 10 innings pitched so far this year.
They could get revenge on multiple counts by beating Houston with Robinson on the mound. But there aren’t any thoughts about that, they say.
“We could play Houston some day in the finals of the World Series and beat them for the national championship and that won’t take away the disappointment and the hurt from 2014,” Mainieri said. “If we beat them 100-0 on Friday night, it wouldn’t change the way we feel about last year.”
LSU (12-1) vs. Houston (8-5)
WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday
WHERE: Minute Maid Park, Houston, Texas
RANKINGS: LSU is ranked as low as No. 7 and has high as No. 2. Houston is ranked as low as No. 16 and as high as No. 8.
PITICHING MATCHUP: LSU sophomore LHP Jared Poché (3-0, 1.96) vs. Houston sophomore RHP Andrew Lantrip (3-0, 0.46)
TV: Cox Sports Television
RADIO: WDGL 98.1 FM (Baton Rouge); WWL 1350 AM (New Orleans)
IN-GAME UPDATES: @DellengerAdv
WHAT TO WATCH: The Tigers meet the team that ended their season a year ago in the Baton Rouge regional. Houston won back-to-back games over LSU last June to become just third non-LSU team to win a regional at Alex Box Stadium. Jared Poché gets another shot to prove he can be the Tigers’ No. 1 starter this season.
KNOW YOUR FOE: Andrew Lantrip might sound familiar. He started in that 12-2 win over LSU in the decisive game of the Baton Rouge regional last season. Lantrip has struck out 16 and walked three in 19.2 innings this season.
IN THE HOLE: vs. Baylor at 3:30 p.m. Saturday (at Houston College Classic)