LSU’s top two starting pitchers are Aaron Nola and Ryan Eades, but coach Paul Mainieri isn’t ready to say which is which.
The No. 3 starter hasn’t been determined and probably won’t be until the competition to be the Tigers closer is complete.
So the first couple of weeks of preseason practice will feature a lot of pitching competition.
“There’s no question the first two games will be pitched by Eades and Nola,” Mainieri said Friday. “I’m just not 100 percent sure of the order yet. We’re going to wait a week or so before we make that decision.”
Based on last season’s roles, it has been assumed both would move up a notch after No. 1 starter Kevin Gausman signed with the Baltimore Orioles, making Nola the No. 1 starter and Eades the No. 2 starter. Last season, Nola was 7-4 with a 3.61 earned run average, and Eades was 5-3 with a 3.83 ERA.
Though Mainieri created a minor mystery about the top two spots, a bigger question is who will be the Sunday starter.
“We are going to extend everybody and let the guys pitch,” Mainieri said, “and then we are going to decide after a couple of weeks, with one full week left to go, who will be moving into that third starter role, who will start the first midweek game and also who will be our closer.”
Mainieri said the candidates to close are Nick Rumbelow, Chris Cotton, Kurt McCune and junior-college transfer Will LaMarche.
“We’re going to first determine the closer,” Mainieri said. “Obviously the third starter is a critically important decision, but I don’t think it’s any more important than who’s going to close games.”
The Tigers open the season against Maryland on Feb. 15 in Alex Box Stadium.
Rhymes focused on Omaha
Outfielder Raph Rhymescreated a tough act for himself to follow after he set a school record with a .431 batting average in being named Southeastern Conference Player of the Year last season.
“Last year was special,” Rhymes said. “It was something you dream about. It was great for my family. I think I maybe ran into some luck along the way. Maybe I had some lucky charms in my cereal. But this year I’m not worried about stats. I want to get this team to Omaha. I want the seniors to experience it, and I want the young guys to experience it. That’s the main goal this year.”
Mainieri said Rhymes never paid attention to his average even as he flirted with .500 into the second half of the season.
“Raph Rhymes has quickly become one of my favorite players of all times,” Mainieri said. “All he wanted to do was win. We counted on him unbelievably. He is such a vital part of our team; he didn’t care about his average, he just wanted to do his part to help us win. I think that is what the greatness of Raph is. The batting average is not the important thing. The important thing is that he does what it takes to help his team win. I have never seen someone as unselfish as this young man.”
Rhymes voluntarily gave up his scholarship last year so Mainieri could use it to bolster the roster.
Road warriors in the West
Mainieri said he’s “not real happy about” what he called a “quirk” in the SEC schedule that has the Tigers playing four of their six West Division series on the road. The addition of Texas A&M to the West and Missouri to the East added a division series for every team.
With LSU due to visit Arkansas, Alabama and Mississippi State and host to Ole Miss and Auburn, Mainieri figured the Aggies would come to Baton Rouge. Instead the Tigers go to College Station, Texas.
The Tigers have 15 home games and 15 road games as they host three East teams (Kentucky, South Carolina and Florida) and visit one (Missouri).
“I wish it were a balanced schedule in the West. Unfortunately it’s’ not,” Mainieri said. “It’s not an excuse, I just wish it were more balanced.”