Tuesday’s contest against Northwestern State was LSU’s 14th and final midweek game of the season, and LSU coach Paul Mainieri said the previous 13 were beneficial for one big reason.
“It’s taken us (13) midweek games to figure out who are the guys we can count on, positively and negatively,” Mainieri said. “Now, I think it’s time to see if we can develop a fourth starter for the postseason.”
The man who will get the first crack at that role is freshman right-hander Todd Peterson, the starter in Tuesday’s game against Northwestern State.
He worked a career-high five innings against the Demons, allowing one run on four hits and one walk. He had a career-high six strikeouts.
It was a dress rehearsal for potential starts in such heavy games as the Southeastern Conference tournament and regional title games.
“As soon as he brought that up, I was like, ‘Wow, that’s an awesome opportunity,’ ” Peterson said.
Peterson is not the first pitcher LSU has tried out in a fourth starter role.
Fellow freshman right-hander Zack Hess occupied that role early in the season and performed well. But he may have performed too well to stay in that role.
After junior right-hander Doug Norman was lost for the season to injury, Mainieri plugged Hess into a late-inning bullpen role, where he has since thrived.
Hess also frequently pitched into the fifth and sixth innings in midweek games, leaving few opportunities for LSU’s other bullpen arms to get some work and stay sharp.
For the past several weeks, LSU has treated its midweek games with a staff approach, using the starter for a few innings before finishing by committee, each pitcher getting an inning or less.
Though LSU has had a bit of a mixed bag using that approach, it has resulted in one positive for Mainieri: He now has a clearer picture of who can be counted on.
“When I first became the coach, (former LSU coach) Skip Bertman gave me a bit of advice: Don’t be afraid to lose a few midweek games to learn about your team, because that will bode well for you when you get to the postseason,” Mainieri said. “I think that was great advice.
“Believe me, we’re not trying to lose games in the middle of the week during the season, but you find out about your team. And now as you go into the postseason, you know what your team is capable of doing.”
Which brings LSU to Peterson, who made his third start of the season Tuesday.
Peterson burst onto the scene with LSU this season, starting his career with 5.2 consecutive scoreless innings over four appearances. He quickly ascended the ladder to pitch in more sticky situations.
But he tailed off after his blistering start. He allowed six earned runs in his next four appearances and his ERA stood at a season-worst 5.93 after an April 4 start against Grambling.
“I think that was a good learning experience for him,” Mainieri said.
Since that start, Peterson had only allowed four earned runs in six appearances going into his start against Northwestern State, spanning 13 innings.
The coach said he likes Peterson’s potential as a starter for a number of reasons.
“There are some things he’s going to need to improve, but there’s three things I don’t doubt about him: He’s got a good arm — he throws 90 miles an hour, plus — he throws strikes, and he won’t be afraid,” Mainieri said. “Any time you pitch at the Box in front of big crowds and on the big stage, it takes something special. When you go out there and you’re cutting it loose at 90-93 miles an hour and you’re throwing strikes, that tells me he’s unafraid.”