KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Jared Poché did not expect to be doing this.
About 20 minutes into LSU’s game against Tennessee on Saturday, here was Poché – the Tigers’ starter – jogging out of the dugout, not for the mound, but for the bullpen.
“I went down there to keep the arm loose,” Poché said. “I don’t mind doing that if they can put up a six spot.”
A six-run lead before even throwing his first pitch of the game? That’s exactly what Poché, struggling on the mound lately, needed.
It resulted in his best outing in a month in the 11-3 win over Tennessee. Poché scattered eight hits over 5.1 innings, struck out three and stranded six runners, two of them in scoring position.
He’s back on track, he says, helped by LSU’s 28-minute, six-run, six hit first inning.
“Makes it a little easier to pitch, a little easier to win,” a smiling Poché said.
Russell Reynolds took over in the sixth and went the rest of the way, a 3.2-inning stretch that had coach Paul Mainieri beaming afterward. Reynolds’ “tremendous” relief stint preserved LSU’s bullpen for Sunday’s 1 p.m. CT series finale, Mainieri said.
Every bullpen arm, aside from Reynolds, is available to help if starter Caleb Gilbert falters. LSU used just four pitchers through the two games in Knoxville, and Hunter Newman threw only 16 pitches in a ninth-inning save Friday night.
“I feel good,” Mainieri said. “We’ve got the arms tomorrow.”
Gilbert, a true freshman closer-turned-starter, is getting his second straight Sunday start in an SEC series. He spread five hits over a five-inning starting debut last week in a win over Arkansas.
LSU (35-16, 16-10 Southeastern Conference) got “vintage” Poché on Saturday, his coach said. It was far from perfect. In fact, Poché faced at least four hitters each inning. He needed Antoine Duplantis’ line drive grab in the first to save a run, and he retired the final three in the fifth with a runner on third.
“He threw a lot of strikes,” Mainieri said. “They hit some balls hard off of him, but that’s going to happen. He didn’t have any 1-2-3 innings, was in jams all of the time but, somehow, he wiggles his way out of them.”
Poché’s fastball command – the bugaboo to his recent struggles – felt better, he said. That’s what was behind those 19 earned runs he’s allowed in the last four starts.
Opponents scored at least two runs in the first inning of those last four outings. In all, Poché had allowed 10 first-inning runs over that stretch.
“Finally able to go out there and throw up a zero in the first inning,” Poché said. “It’s been a little rough on my last half of the season, but it makes it a lot easier when they go up there and put a six spot up in the first, another in the second and a couple more in the third.”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @RossDellenger.