KNOXVILLE, Tenn. —Caleb Gilbert’s first 11 pitches were great.
They resulted in a pair of game-opening strikeouts and had the LSU dugout riled up for the true freshman.
“Next couple of innings,” Gilbert said, “command kind of shifted a little bit.”
Gilbert needed 67 pitches to get through three innings in LSU’s 10-7 win over Tennessee on Sunday, potentially raising questions about LSU’s No. 3 starting pitcher, a bugaboo in recent years.
After the victory, coach Paul Mainieri was noncommittal on that role, but he and pitching coach Alan Dunn have a plan in place for this weekend’s critical, regular-season finale against Florida and beyond. The coach will reveal that plan Wednesday, he said, a day before the Tigers (36-16, 17-10 Southeastern Conference) host the Gators (43-9, 18-8).
“We’ve got a plan from Tuesday through next Tuesday,” Mainieri said.
If his team doesn’t get a top-four seed into the SEC tournament, LSU will open the event by playing next Tuesday.
The Tigers will start John Valek (6-2, 4.03 ERA) this Tuesday against Northwestern State. Bumped from the No. 3 starter’s role, Valek will start his third straight midweek contest against the Demons (30-21). Gilbert, a closer-turned-starter, made his second straight college start Sunday. It didn’t go as well as the first — a five-hit, five-inning stint against Arkansas last week.
He lasted three innings Sunday, walking three and throwing just 39 strikes to 28 balls.
The Alabama native walked two in his final frame, needing a Kramer Robertson double play to wiggle free. He issued his first walk between two singles in the second, resulting in the Vols’ first two runs.
“As a starter, I didn’t do my job taking it as deep as I could,” he said.
Said Mainieri: “I thought Caleb did OK. He’s a young kid.”
‘Twanie’s got power’
Antoine Duplantis got lucky.
His three-run blast soared well over the right-field wall Sunday, bounding down Todd Helton Drive, along the banks of the Tennessee River. But he got lucky? Yes, the humble freshman said.
“Hanging curveball,” Duplantis said. “I was just trying to fight it off. Got a little lucky.”
Duplantis’ three-run shot completed LSU’s four-run eighth inning in which the Tigers broke a 6-6 tie. It also was LSU’s fourth homer in three games in Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
Two of them came from some unheralded long-ball guys.
That was Duplantis’ second career homer. Second baseman Cole Freeman sent a solo shot over the left-field wall in Friday’s opening game, the first homer of his career.
“Twanie’s got power,” Mainieri said, using Duplantis’ nickname. “His power’s going to continue to develop. When he gets his right pitch and he gets that bat head out, he’s got a little pop in that bat.”