Freshman right-hander AJ Labas finally got a chance to stretch his legs and show what he could do in an extended outing, and he did not disappoint.
Labas shut down a solid South Alabama offense for six innings, never allowing more than one base runner in a single inning and setting the tone in a 9-4 LSU win.
"Man, Labas was terrific," LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. "Just continuing to impress in every way."
The Tigers (12-6) took it easy on Labas in his first two starts after he recovered from December back surgery, limiting him to two and three innings. But they took the training wheels off Wednesday, extending him to 74 pitches — nearly double his previous season high.
"It was really nice," Labas said. "I felt like a starting pitcher again."
Though the outing was longer than anything he had put together previously in an LSU uniform, the results were similar: Labas (1-0) peppered the strike zone, daring South Alabama (9-8) to make pure contact while he was spotting up his three-pitch mix.
Every now and then, the Jaguars did connect. They had base hits in the first, second, third, fifth and sixth innings against Labas. But that was all the LSU pitcher allowed Wednesday, including walks.
South Alabama came into Wednesday’s game ranked No. 5 nationally in walks, having drawn 108 in its first 16 games. But, for the second time in three starts, Labas did not walk a batter.
"Labas was a great matchup, I knew that going in," Mainieri said. "... If you just throw the ball over the plate and make good pitches, you can still get them out."
Attacking the strike zone the way he did "was important to change (South Alabama's) mindset," Labas said.
Labas only went to one three-ball count — to South Alabama leadoff hitter Dylan Hardy, the first batter he faced. Labas has faced 44 batters this season and has gone to a three-ball count just three times.
Against a Jaguars lineup stacked with six left-handers — including five consecutive lefties at one point — Labas liberally deployed his changeup, fading it away from the barrels of their bats.
"Since I've come back from my injury, my changeup has been my go-to pitch," Labas said.
Labas has started his career by throwing 11 consecutive scoreless innings.
His LSU teammates backed him up early, scoring two runs in the first inning on Hunter Feduccia’s bases-loaded single. It marked the seventh consecutive game the Tigers have scored in the first inning.
After scoreless second and third innings, the Tigers took firm control by scoring in the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh innings. They did their biggest damage with a four-run fifth that put them ahead 7-0.
In that fifth inning, LSU worked a pair of bases-loaded walks, then got a two-run, bases-loaded single from Zach Watson.
The Tigers went 2 for 3 with the bases loaded Wednesday. Entering the game, they were hitless in their past seven at bats with the bases full.
That's baseball, Mainieri said. "It can giveth, and it can taketh away."
Feduccia, Watson and Bryce Jordan each finished with two hits and two RBIs to pace LSU offensively.
As soon as Labas left the game, South Alabama found some success against the LSU bullpen, which allowed four runs on six hits and four walks.
The Jaguars had the tying run in the hole in the eighth inning, but Matthew Beck struck out back-to-back batters to end the threat. Austin Bain worked around a pair of singles to notch a scoreless ninth inning.
LSU will enter Southeastern Conference play Friday against Missouri as winners of seven of its last nine games.
Duplantis reaches milestone
With an RBI single in the seventh inning Wednesday, Antoine Duplantis recorded his 200th career hit.