A winner in all four of his first LSU starts, John Valek III’s given LSU and Paul Mainieri just what they’d hoped for as a Sunday starter.
Now comes the question that’s been asked since February: Can Valek and his crafty, pitch-to-contact style translate into the Southeastern Conference when the Tigers welcome Alabama to Alex Box Stadium next weekend to open conference play?
“I’m going to keep doing what I’ve been doing. It’s been successful to this point,” Valek said after his start on Sunday. “SEC, it doesn’t matter, I’m just going to go out there and keep pitching the way I’ve been pitching and hope the success continues.”
Valek’s now allowed two or fewer earned runs in all four of his starts, completing five innings in each while only walking one through 25.2 innings. The eight hits he allowed in Sunday’s 10-6 win against Ball State were his most of the season, but also a result of his style.
“He’s going to throw the ball over the plate, and you’ll have to play good defense,” Mainieri said. “Sometimes the balls they hit are going to find holes, and it’s just part of it. Then you hope they hit them at people and hope you make the plays. He’s not going to be an overpowering guy, but he’s done well so far and he deserves a chance to show that he can pitch in this league.”
After O’Neal Lochridge missed Saturday’s game with a tight back, Mainieri had originally penciled the third baseman into Sunday’s lineup.
“He took batting practice before the game, and he just couldn’t cut loose,” Mainieri said. “He wanted to play, but I want him to be ready for conference play healthy. I don’t want to be dealing with this. Hopefully he’ll be ready to go Wednesday (against UNO) with a couple more days of treatment, but I think if he would have played today, it would only have made it worse.”
Chris Reid got his second consecutive start in Lochridge’s absence, finishing 2-for-4.
After throwing from 150 feet pain free on Saturday, Jake Latz will begin a series of flat-ground bullpen sessions next week, Mainieri said.
Latz, a highly-touted lefty who had elbow surgery in November, will then progress to pitching off an incline, gradually working his way back to the mound. The 2014 Illinois Player of the Year, who was drafted in the 11th round of the 2014 MLB draft has yet to throw a collegiate pitch while combating the nagging injury.
“I’m hoping some time maybe in the next month he’d be ready to be on the mound, face hitters, and we’ll see what he looks like,” Mainieri said.