Sophomore right-hander Aaron Nola will be LSU’s opening-night starter but the pitching rotation isn’t set for the season, coach Paul Mainieri said Tuesday.
Nola, a former Catholic High School standout who was named to two freshman All-America teams last season, will start the opener of the Tigers’ first two series. Junior right-hander Ryan Eades will start the second game of both, Mainieri said.
“That is not etched in stone though for the year,” Mainieri said before practice Tuesday. “We’ll stay with the same rotation for the first two weekends, then we’ll reassess what we want to do going forward. I expect both of them to pitch very well. Really it’s interchangeable on who pitches Friday or Saturday.”
Nola and LSU open the season against Maryland on Friday, Feb. 15 at Alex Box Stadium in the first game of a three-game series. The following week at Alex Box, the Tigers play BYU on Thursday and Saturday with a game against Southeastern Louisiana on Friday.
Last season Nola was 7-4 with a 3.61 ERA, pitching mostly as the Sunday starter during Southeastern Conference play. Eades was 5-3 with a 3.83 ERA as the Saturday starter.
“I think Nola gives us the best chance to win the first night,” Mainieri said. “Secondly, I think he deserves to start on Friday night based on how he finished the season last year. Thirdly, if Eades ends up becoming the Friday night starter, I want him to earn it. I don’t think he’s earned it yet.
“If he becomes the Friday night starter, it’s not going to be because Nola faltered,; it’s going to be because Eades pitched so well.”
Mainieri said “deep down” he would like to see Eades earn the Friday spot because he’s a junior and this could be his last season with the Tigers.
“I really don’t think it’s a major story one way or the other with Eades and Nola,” Mainieri said. “But people have to remember that the game on Saturday is just as important as the game on Friday. I know there’s a status with the Friday night starter, but I think there’s something to that role on Saturday as well because, regardless of what happens on Friday night, you want to run someone out there on Saturday that your team has great belief in whether you’re going for the series win or whether you’re trying to get it back even going into Sunday. That Saturday game is really a pivotal game.”
Nola said he expects to have a few “butterflies” on opening night but he’ll draw on the experience he gained last season when he started LSU’s first game in the SEC Tournament, Baton Rouge Regional and Baton Rouge Super Regional.
“Ryan and I both know we’re going to be weekend guys,” Nola said. “We’re going to try and lead this team to the national championship and do the best we can to put this team in a winning situation. We’re just going to push ourselves to get better regardless if I’m Friday and he’s Saturday or vice versa.”
Whoever starts Friday night will be challenged to match last year’s No. 1 starter, right-hander Kevin Gausman, who was 12-2 with a 2.77 ERA before the Baltimore Orioles made him the first pitcher selected in the major league draft last summer.
“Every game is important, and whenever coach calls my name and gives me the ball, I’m going to go out there and do everything I can to give my team a chance to win,” Eades said. “Every game is important in this league and I don’t think one game carries more weight than another. We’ll see what happens the first two weeks and go from there.”
Mainieri has other pitching personnel decisions to make. He said next week he would name a Sunday starter from a group comprised of left-handers Brent Bonvillain and Chris Cotton and right-hander Kurt McCune. … He said left-hander Cody Glenn and freshman right-hander Russell Reynolds of Parkview Baptist are competing to be the midweek starter, though both likely will pitch in midweek games before conference play. Once Southeastern Conference play begins, the midweek games will be used to get the bullpen in shape for the weekend. … Right-hander Nick Rumbelow is sidelined by a strained oblique muscle in his left side. Mainieri said LSU will be cautious with the injury and Rumbelow will sit out at least the first weekend and perhaps the second to minimize the chances of aggravating the injury. … The battle to close is among Cotton, McCune and right-hander Joey Bourgeois.