On a windy Friday evening at Alex Box Stadium, Jared Poché stepped on the mound and delivered a fastball to batter Jared Foster for a strike.
In a literal sense, the pitch opened LSU’s 2015 baseball practice.
In a figurative sense, Poché’s fastball began his stint as the Tigers’ new Aaron Nola.
In one season, Poché has evolved from a wide-eyed rookie pitcher to a seasoned starting hurler expected to lead a group of — you guessed it — wide-eyed rookie pitchers.
He’s slipping into the role of the now-departed Nola, a first-round MLB draft selection and LSU’s record-breaking All-America ace who carried a group of youthful arms last season that included Poché.
It’s his turn now. And so soon.
“It’s a different feeling. Starting to get a little gray hair,” Poché joked, pointing to light brown roots around his ears.
LSU hosted a horde of reporters Friday for the team’s annual media day, the ceremonial start to preparation for the 2015 season. Hours later, Poché threw out the first pitch in the first spring scrimmage for a squad ranked in the top 10 in preseason polls.
Poché likely will start on opening night, coach Paul Mainieri said, but the Friday night position could rotate among four freshman pitchers before Southeastern Conference play begins.
Poché and four highly touted freshmen — Alex Lange, Jake Godfrey, Jake Latz and Doug Norman — will vie for weekend starting jobs over the first three to four weeks of the season.
All five pitchers will get starts during a near-monthlong evaluation period that includes about a dozen games. It starts with Poché’s opening-night nod Feb. 13 against Kansas and likely ends March 4 against Grambling.
Mainieri hopes to settle on a weekend rotation before the Tigers head into their final nonconference weekend series: the Houston College Classic on March 6-8.
One thing’s certain about LSU’s weekend lineup: It will include Poché.
“Poché is capable and will be a weekend starter for us,” Mainieri said Friday in an hourlong address to reporters.
Will he slide into Nola’s spot as the Tigers’ Friday night ace? That’ll be determined during that all-important evaluation period.
Poché was listed in the No. 1 spot under “projected starting rotation” in a depth chart distributed to reporters Friday. Lange, Godfrey and Latz were listed, in that order, behind Poché. Norman and Kyle Bouman were the first two “projected relievers.”
At some point during the preconference schedule, Mainieri hopes that a closer emerges among the group. LSU lost hard-throwing closer Joe Broussard from last season.
Broussard’s role could be filled by one of the four highly touted rookies, a group that’ll look up to a 20-year-old sophomore.
Poché reminds many of Nola. Sure, he doesn’t possess that near-unhittable 94-mph fastball or a curveball that froze hitters at the plate. Everything else, he’s got — the calm demeanor, quiet manner, mound presence and emotionless way.
“Stays level just like Nola,” shortstop Alex Bregman said. “Stays level throughout the course of the game. Just competes. Doesn’t get too high, doesn’t get too low.”
Mainieri has delivered a message to his new Nola.
“He wants me to go out there and be the leader. Show the guys how it works in college, how everything works, how everything goes,” Poché said. “Those guys haven’t been in college. They’ve only faced high school hitters.”
Poché knows how it feels. This time last year, he entered practice with zero experience facing college hitters in official games, but LSU’s starting pitching situation was such that Mainieri had to throw him into the weekend rotation.
Poché finished last season 9-3 with a 2.45 ERA. He enters this season on at least one preseason All-America team and as the leader of a group of the most highly ranked freshman pitchers in the nation.
How can Mainieri trust these young hurlers on the weekend? He has heard that question before — 12 months ago and about his new Nola.
“The question I was receiving (last year) was, ‘How could you count so strongly on an unproven freshman in Jared Poché?’ ” Mainieri said. “I knew he’d do a good job. Goes out and wins nine games for us. That’s a pretty good example to set with these other freshman pitchers who are going to be coming along.”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter: @DellengerAdv.