LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri has set his weekend rotation, and it will include two freshmen.
Rookie Alex Lange will start Saturday in the season-opening series against Kansas, and Jake Godfrey will follow Sunday. The two complete a weekend rotation that includes sophomore Jared Poché, slated to start Opening Night on Friday.
“I think that Lange, Godfrey and Norman give us the best chance to win — not just opening weekend but over the long haul,” Mainieri said. “They’ve got everything we’re looking for in starting pitchers. I think they all have poise and composure.”
Lange and Godfrey spent preseason practice competing with fellow freshmen Doug Norman and Jake Latz and senior Kyle Bouman for weekend starting spots. Latz is at least temporarily removed from the competition after an elbow injury flared up. It will force him to miss the first two weeks of the season.
Norman will begin the season as LSU’s midweek starter. He’ll get the nod against Nicholls State on Feb. 18. Austin Bain, another freshman coming on strong, is likely to follow Norman on the mound against Nicholls. Bain and Norman may alternate midweek starts early in the year.
Mainieri plans to alternate his weekend rotation through the first three nonconference series, giving each one Friday night start, but that plan could change. Mainieri wants each freshman starter, including Norman, to get 15 innings on the mound in the first thee weeks.
The coach will re-evaluate the starting pitching situation after the third nonconference weekend series against Princeton from Feb. 27 to March 1. He wants to have his starting pitching set by the time the Tigers travel to the Houston College Classic, the final nonconference weekend of the season, on March 6-8.
LSU enters the season ranked in the top 10 in all of the major preseason polls and in the top five in three of them.
The Tigers start the year with five of their top six pitchers as rookies. That includes Bain, a freshman from Geismar, and redshirt freshman Jesse Stallings, from Colfax. Zac Person will begin the season as a setup man, and Stallings will be the closer.
Those positions also will be re-evaluated and could change.
LSU hasn’t started a season with two freshman pitchers in the weekend rotation since 2011, when Kurt McCune and Kevin Gausman started.
“The more innings they get, the quicker that they’re no longer freshmen without experience,” Mainieri said. “I know, because they’re freshmen, they’re going to stub their toe here and there.”
Pitching coach Alan Dunn and Mainieri met with the freshman starters Sunday night to deliver the news. He had a message for them.
“You have to remember, you haven’t done anything yet,” he said he told them. “The challenge is to show why the coaches and rest of the team should continue to have confidence in you.”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @DellengerAdv.