Bryce Jordan stepped out of the LSU dugout early Friday afternoon, the lineups for the evening’s season-opening intrasquad scrimmage tacked to the corkboard behind him.
It came an hour after his coach playfully ordered diaper rash medication for a team looking to replace eight of nine starters.
Then, Paul Mainieri began unveiling the team’s defensive starters for its Feb. 19 season opener against Cincinnati, a tactic Mainieri’s seldom uses but found fruitful when dealing with players lean on experience.
“Initially,” the 10th-year coach said, “I just want them to make sure they catch the ball behind this pitching staff. As time goes on, I think their hitting will continue to improve. But I feel confident we can still win games while we are going through that growth process because our pitching staff is going to give us a chance to win right out of the gate.”
Jordan will be the designated hitter, one of six returning players Mainieri said he will pencil in the lineup card for the opener. Jordan’s twin, Beau, will join him that night, playing left field.
Other returners include Jake Fraley in center field, Mike Papierski behind the plate, Kramer Robertson at second base and Greg Deichmann at first.
“We’re not young at all,” Bryce Jordan said. “From the outside, I’m sure that it’s what it looks like. I’m not going to say we’ve replaced all those guys, but we’ve found new guys, and they’re just as talented. We’re ready to show all the outsiders that we’re not a young team.”
And so the theme of this LSU baseball season, one some perceive as a rebuilding year without the likes of Andrew Stevenson, Alex Bregman and Kade Scivicque, began to take shape.
Jared Poché and Alex Lange return to form a formidable weekend rotation, though Mainieri was mum on who would start opening night. Sophomore Austin Bain and junior-college transfer Riley Smith will complete the back end of the rotation.
Only three players without LSU experience — shortstop Trey Dawson, third baseman Cole Freeman and right fielder Antoine Duplantis — are scheduled to start opening night.
Duplantis cackled at his coach’s prescription, shooting down the notion that he or his other classmates need Boudreaux’s Butt Paste for their upcoming debuts. A fall of enduring Lange’s and Poche’s pitching arsenal settled Duplantis.
“If you go off of paper, we are young,” Freeman said. “We’re going to play a lot more mature than people think. We’ve gotten a lot of experience over the fall and (have) these intrasquads coming up. On paper, it’ll look young, but I don’t think we’ll end up playing like it.”
Robertson and Fraley are the only two true juniors scheduled to start. Fraley insists he’ll change nothing about his demeanor or game to assume more of a leadership role. He prefers to lead by example, hoping the younger players admire his tenaciousness in center field.
Robertson differed. The inside bill of his cap is covered in black marker, paragraphs of criticisms hurled his way from Twitter users — motivation, he said. Asked what he has improved upon from his past two seasons, Robertson explained his leadership, learning to take command of a team many feel is too young to succeed.
“It’s not like we’re going to have a ton of freshmen in our lineup every game,” Robertson said. “I don’t think there will be too many growing pains for us. … Seeing so many new faces is overwhelming for some people. People will like the team we have this year.”