Jared Poché got a tune-up before his big day — a tester, too.
Poché, LSU’s freshman who will start Sunday at Vanderbilt, survived his two innings on the mound and the Tigers drubbed Southern 8-0 at Alex Box Stadium on Wednesday night.
Poché stranded a runner at third base in the first two frames, and LSU’s freshman-heavy lineup had six extra-base hits in the final game of a season-opening, 18-game non-conference slate.
The next one won’t be so easy.
The Tigers (16-2) leave Thursday afternoon for Nashville, Tenn., where they’ll start a three-game series Friday against the Commodores (16-2) in a battle of consensus top-10 teams.
Poché is set to make his debut in a Southeastern Conference game Sunday.
The freshman won one of the two weekend starting gigs behind ace Aaron Nola. Junior-college transfer Kyle Bouman will start Saturday’s game.
Poché started the game against Southern, pitching only the first two innings. It was all part of the coaching staff’s plan to ready the rookie for Sunday’s big day. Poché (4-0, 0.90) got the win because coaches decided before the game that he’d throw limited innings.
He got a test from the Jaguars (2-9), who lost their ninth straight.
Poché allowed three hits, two of the infield variety, and had a runner at third each inning.
“That might be how it is versus Vanderbilt,” Poché said. “Just practicing out of the stretch. Haven’t pitched much out of the stretch this year.”
Poché induced groundouts to end each frame, wiggling out of both jams before stepping aside so coach Paul Mainieri could exhaust his bullpen.
LSU used four relievers, none more impressive than Runnels grad Alden Cartwright’s two scoreless frames. He struck out four in eight batters faced and now has nine strikeouts in nine innings pitched this season.
Cartwright is developing into one of LSU’s go-to middle relievers.
“Let me tell you one thing about Cartwright: He is absolutely fearless,” Mainieri said.
Meanwhile, Poché got out of those jams, but Mainieri said the lefty “is better than what he showed.”
“He’ll be better, hopefully it will be this Sunday,” the coach said.
Mainieri told Poché about a week ago that he’d be part of the weekend rotation to begin conference play.
“I was pretty excited,” Poché said. “Any freshman would be pretty excited knowing they’re going to be pitching versus a high caliber team like Vanderbilt and on the first SEC road game.”
No one’s real surprised.
Mainieri has said over the past few weeks that Poché has the best “stuff” of any of the three candidates for a weekend job: Cody Glenn, Bouman and Poché.
In 20 innings pitched this season, Poché has allowed just two runs, 16 hits, struck out 15 and walked two. He managed to beat out Glenn, a junior and last year’s No.2/3 starter, and Bouman, another junior.
“Deep down I felt like I had the ability to do it,” Poché said. “Coach gave me the opportunities and I took advantage of the opportunity.”
On Wednesday, LSU started six freshmen, including Poché.
The Tigers had just four everyday starters in the lineup, and shortstop Alex Bregman, rarely out of the game, sat for the final three innings.
Of the Tigers’ 10 hits, five were doubles.
They chased Southern starter Brady May in the fourth inning. Five Southern pitchers issued a combined eight walks and threw three wild pitches.
Jarrett DeHart, in his first career start, had a triple and a double, and each Jake Fraley, Chris Sciambra and Alex Bregman smacked doubles. The five freshmen in the order — DeHart, Fraley, Danny Zardon, Kramer Robertson and Cade Stone — combined to go 7 for 19.
“Last night after we finished the game with Nicholls State, I mapped out the lineup for today,” Mainieri said, “and I could hardly sleep last night I was so excited about running all of those guys out there.”