In the living room of Jake Godfrey and Jake Latz’s apartment is a makeshift bed. It might as well have “Alex Bregman” engraved on its side.
“He’s our guy,” Godfrey said smiling.
Already, the veteran position players and freshman pitchers are mingling. It’s key for an LSU team that’ll rely on a host of rookie hurlers to start key games. The 18- and 19-year-olds will, at least, have experience surrounding them in the field.
Five of eight projected position starters have 50 or more career starts, and six of the eight are upperclassmen. In all, LSU’s eight position guys have a combined 516 career starts, an average of 65 each.
That’s more than enough experience to balance out a weekend starting rotation that’s expected to include two freshmen.
“I think it gives them confidence, think it gives them the confidence knowing that if they get ground balls or fly balls we’re going to be there to make the routine play for them,” said shortstop Bregman, who leads all returning position players with 131 starts. “If they have confidence, nobody can stop them. Their stuff is too good.”
Godfrey, Latz, Doug Norman and Alex Lange are vying for starting weekend spots. Sophomore Jared Poche has locked up a spot in the rotation.
Coach Paul Mainieri is hoping to have his weekend rotation settled and a closer chosen when the Tigers enter their last pre-conference weekend series at the Houston College Classic on March 6-8.
In the meantime, he’ll evaluate the freshman hurlers. It won’t hurt to be surrounded by veterans like Bregman, a two-year starting junior, seniors Conner Hale and Kade Scivicque and juniors Mark Laird and Andrew Stevenson in the outfield.
“It helps with their development,” reliever Zac Person said of the freshman pitchers. “If they develop the way we need them to develop, they’ll be big time.”
Sophomores Danny Zardon, at third base, and Jake Fraley, in left field, are the youngest and least experienced of the lineup. Still, they have 40 starts between them.
This year’s LSU team — the mix of young starting pitchers and a veteran lineup — reminds Mainieri of his 2002 Notre Dame team, the one he took to Omaha. The similarities are plentiful.
That squad replaced an ace from the previous season (LSU lost Aaron Nola last season) with a bevy of highly rated freshman pitchers who were part of a No. 1-ranked signing class (Latz, Godfrey, Lange and Norman are part of LSU’s No. 1-ranked signing class).
Three of Notre Dame’s top four pitchers in 2002 were rookies, and the lineup was full of veteran fielders.
“I don’t like to live in the past, but when you have some history of success with similar conditions, it gives you a lot of hope,” Mainieri said. “I saw the way those pitchers matured as the year went on and I saw the confidence that those position players gave to those pitchers.”
Five of LSU’s 10 Southeastern Conference series this season will start on Thursday and end on Saturday, and Mainieri isn’t sure how this “quirk” to the Tigers’ schedule will affect his pitching rotation.
Why? He doesn’t know who will be in his weekend starting rotation just yet.
“If Aaron Nola was one of the names, I would keep him on a six-day routine, but I don’t know if these guys are going to pitch deep into the games like Nola did,” Mainieri said. “If they went eight innings, I’d be a little nervous about bringing them back on one day less rest. But if they’re six-inning pitchers, then maybe it’s not going to be as big of a deal.”
Four of LSU’s five Thursday-Saturday series are on the road: at Arkansas (March 19-21), at Alabama (April 2-4), at Mississippi State (April 30-May 2) and at South Carolina (May 14-16). The home series against Texas A&M (April 23-25) is a Thursday start, too.
LSU has consecutive Thursday-Saturday series just once.
The new SEC Network is behind three of the five Thursday-Saturday series. LSU has the SEC’s televised Thursday game in series against Arkansas, Mississippi State and Texas A&M.
The final series of the regular season is always a Thursday-Saturday series, and the Alabama series was moved to Thursday-Saturday to avoid Easter Sunday.
Injured pitchers Russell Reynolds, Jesse Stallings and Hunter Newman are mostly or completely healthy but are shaking off rust from being out last year, Mainieri said.
Reynolds, an injury plagued sophomore from Baton Rouge, isn’t “as sharp” as he was in September before suffering the third of three injuries in the past two years.
During the 2013 season, Reynolds had shoulder surgery and missed 2014. He injured an oblique muscle during summer ball in June and then fell off of a pickup truck this fall, injuring his elbow and knocking him out of fall practice.
Reynolds, who started four games on the mound in 2013 before the mid-season injury, is listed as the fourth of a projected group of relievers in the team’s preseason depth chart.
Stallings, a freshman from Colfax who sat out last season after having Tommy John surgery, had a successful outing recently, Mainieri said. Stallings is listed in the middle of the projected relievers.
“He was 90-92 miles per hour with a pretty good breaking ball and a really good changeup,” the coach said.
Newman, a sophomore, seems to be behind the others. He had surgery last year to remove something similar to a bone spur. He’s listed as the second-to-last reliever in the depth chart.
Newman, who entered last season in the competition for a weekend starting spot before the injury, has been “up and down,” Mainieri said.
A limited number of LSU individual game tickets will go on sale to the public at 7 p.m. Thursday. The tickets will be available online only at lsutix.net until 8 a.m. Jan. 30, when they may also be purchased by phone or in person at the LSU athletic ticket office.
The sale on Thursday will be a Create Your Own 15-Game or More package. Fans can select any 15 or more of the 34 home games. There is a limit of eight tickets per account for all home games with the Create Your Own Package.
Remaining individual game tickets will go on sale at 8 a.m. on Feb. 3 online at lsutix.net, over the phone, or in person at the LSU athletic ticket office.
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter@DellengerAdv.