Hunter Newman’s niche: Busting up tight jams for LSU with a ‘go-to’ curveball _lowres

Advocate staff photo by HEATHER MCCLELLAND -- LSU's Hunter Newman pitches against Stephen F. Austin in Alex Box Stadium Tuesday, March 3, 2015.

HOOVER, Ala. – Maybe Hunter Newman’s injury last season was a good thing.

Newman spent most of his downtime while out with a shoulder injury improving a breaking ball that now appears to be a hitter-baffling, jam-busting, not-so-secret weapon.

“It’s my go-to,” Newman said.

He used it Friday in a 6-2 series-clinching win over Alabama at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium, continuing to fill a niche for the Tigers. He’s the guy coach Paul Mainieri calls on with runners in scoring position, a go-to reliever in tight jams.

Newman retired the first batter he faced to end the seventh inning, stranding runners on second and third and sweeping up a messy situation that starter Alex Lange left. In the eighth, the sophomore from Georgia got out of a self-created mess.

He issued a leadoff walk, allowed a single and then fielded a hard shot at his feet for a double play. Maybe he just needs runners on base, huh?

After all, he admits that he likes his role as the jam reliever.

“It’s a challenge,” Newman said. “I like getting challenged.”

Newman began last season as a candidate for LSU’s weekend starting rotation, and many thought he was the favorite to grab the No. 3 starter spot. He was ruled out of the competition halfway through preseason practice and missed the year with a bone spur-like injury that needed treatment and rehabilitation.

He spent much of his off time developing his breaking pitches – a changeup and curveball.

“I have good command of that,” he said.

“He’s got a niche. He can throw any of his pitches for strikes,” Mainieri said. (The curveball) is something that’s made him a more complete guy. It’s hard to hit a breaking ball in a clutch situation when you’re a hitter.”

Better than a dream

Beau Jordan has had dreams of being an LSU baseball player.

He’s not sure any of them have been this good.

“I don’t think you can dream moments like this,” the freshman outfielder said.

Jordan got his third straight start on Friday, finishing the game 1-for-5. But it was his improbable, game-saving catch in Thursday night’s game that, in part, has the Lake Charles native feeling so high.

In LSU’s wild 16-inning 8-5 win Thursday night, Jordan made a running, game-saving catch in the 14th inning. His back to home plate and Bama’s winning run rounding second, Jordan dove for the ball, popped up and whistled a throw to relay man Alex Bregman.

Bregman – hearing shouts from second baseman Jared Foster to gun it to first – hummed it to first in time for a mouth-gaping double play.

“Usually on lefties, I play more shallow than on righties. I was playing more in than usual,” Jordan said. “He hit it and I was like, ‘Oh man. That’s hit pretty well.’ I started running back, running back. I caught it and got up.

“Saw the runner rounding second,” he said. “I chunked it in. I tried to throw it in as hard as I can and as fast as I can.”

Latz’s status

Freshman lefty Jake Latz might not get the chance to pitch this season, but nothing is certain yet, Mainieri said.

Latz, who has not thrown in a game this year, is about four weeks into a six-week throwing program while recovering from a stress reaction in his throwing elbow he suffered during preseason practice.

The highly touted rookie from Illinois is having trouble completely shaking a lingering injury, Mainieri said. The injury has flared up on him recently.

Even if all went well, Latz was not expected to be game-ready until May.

Latz, once a candidate for a weekend starting spot, won’t redshirt, something given to players who plan to be in school five years.

“He turned down a $1 million signing bonus so the chance of him being here for five years is probably nil,” Mainieri said last week.

Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @DellengerAdv.