LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri has started to solve what he calls his team’s “question marks.”
His first solution: returning Austin Bain to the weekend rotation.
Bain, the freshman out of Dutchtown High, reclaimed his No. 3 starting spot with a sparkling 5.1-inning relief outing in Sunday’s 6-5 win over Missouri. His return at least temporarily takes care of one of Mainieri’s concerns about his Tigers.
LSU (43-8) remained the consensus No. 1 team in the nation for a fourth straight week Monday following its three-game sweep of Missouri and heading into Tuesday’s game at UNO (14-36).
The Tigers, 19-7 in the Southeastern Conference, are in prime position to win a pair of regular-season league titles. They need one win at South Carolina (30-22, 12-15) to claim the SEC West championship and two to assure an SEC overall crown.
Mainieri’s club is also “about as much of a lock as you can get” for an NCAA top-eight national seed, D1Baseball.com wrote Monday.
Still, there are issues, and the coach’s top one is his former closer Jesse Stallings, who blew a fourth SEC save Sunday. Mainieri said the Tigers are considering “other options” for closer, and the team may not designate a specific player for that role.
“That’s something we’re looking at. I’m not sure what we’re going to do there yet. Obviously it’s a concern,” Mainieri said.
Mainieri mentioned a host of pitchers for the role: Parker Bugg, Jake Godfrey, Zac Person, Alden Cartwright and Russell Reynolds.
“We just might go with the situation — who the hitter is, what the situation is, go with the gut feeling of who we think could get the job done,” Mainieri said.
LSU has blown eight saves in the ninth inning or later in SEC play this season, including three in one game against Alabama — in the ninth, 11th and 13th innings. The Tigers went on to win four of those six games.
Meanwhile, Mainieri said Danny Zardon will remain at second base in what could be referred to as the team’s third question mark. The Tigers lost starting second baseman Jared Foster to academic ineligibility, and Zardon replaced him in the three games against Missouri.
Zardon’s only gaffe in the field came on an error in the ninth inning Sunday. He went 1-for-9 at the plate (the lone hit a home run), struck out six times and was picked off at first base.
“I’d like for him to not strike out as much and make those plays in the ninth inning, and I’ll be a happy man,” Mainieri said. “I think Danny is a good ball player, and I think he’ll continue to improve as time goes on.”
Foster is appealing his eligibility, he said Monday. The process has begun, but Mainieri is operating as if Foster will remain ineligible.
LSU is down backup second baseman Kramer Robertson, who won’t begin throwing until the team travels to the SEC tournament next week, Mainieri said.
“I hope he’ll be ready for the (NCAA) regional, but that’s only if the doctor clears him. He just started swinging the bat,” the coach said. “He can run and swing the bat.”
Waiting over for Devall
Junior Hunter Devall entered this season thinking he’d get “a lot of opportunities” to pitch.
Nine innings later, he’s finally getting his big chance. The Clinton native is set to start against the Privateers on Tuesday in New Orleans. It’ll be his first start in more than 25 months.
Devall has pitched just nine innings this season and hasn’t thrown in an SEC game since at Arkansas on March 20 in LSU’s 16-3 win.
“Very tough, very tough,” he said describing his wait for this start. “I wouldn’t say I expected any certain role coming into this year, but I felt I had a pretty good fall, pretty good spring and also a good summer. Felt like I was going to get a lot of opportunities to throw. At the same time, we’ve got so many unbelievable arms on our team.”
Devall suffered a strained back muscle during that Arkansas trip, but he’s fully healthy now. There is no specific innings limit for Devall, but he will make the travel squad to South Carolina, Mainieri said.
Devall has pitched more than 2.2 innings just once in his three-year career.
“I’d like to see him go out there and dominate the game for three or four innings,” Mainieri said. “Hopefully we can scratch a few runs across and get some other guys in the game.”
LSU pitcher Alex Lange was named SEC Freshman of the Week for the third time Monday after a two-hit, eight-strikeout, seven-inning start Saturday against Missouri. … LSU will lead the NCAA in regular-season paid attendance for a 20th straight season. LSU sold 364,700 tickets this year, nearly 150,000 more than the next team (Ole Miss).
LSU (43-8) at UNO (14-36)
When: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Maestri Field
Rankings: LSU is the No. 1 team in the nation in all six polls. UNO is not ranked.
Projected starting pitchers: LSU Jr. LHP Hunter Devall (1-0, 4.00 ERA) vs. UNO Jr. RHP Kevin Kelleher (2-8, 3.80 ERA, 47.1 IP, 21 BB, 64 SO)
Radio: WDGL-FM, 98.1; KLWB-FM, 103.7; WWL-AM, 870; WWL-FM, 105.3
In-game updates: @DellengerAdv
What to watch: Second base. Every outing for Danny Zardon is an audition for him at second, where he has replaced Jared Foster, ruled ineligible for the rest of the season. Zardon committed one error over the weekend and struck out in six of nine at-bats, but he made some nice plays in the field.
Know your opponent: UNO has an RPI of 274 (out of 301 teams). The Privateers have lost seven straight, but they’re throwing one of their best arms. Kelleher leads the team in strikeouts (64) and has just 21 walks.
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @DellengerAdv.