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LSU pitcher Hunter Newman (55) pitches against Hofstra in the ninth inning, Wednesday, February 22, 2017, at LSU's Alex Box Stadium in Baton Rouge, La. LSU won 8-1.

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK

It took senior reliever Hunter Newman about three weeks to recover from a herniated disc in his back and return to the mound for LSU.

That fit the initial timetable publicly laid out by LSU coach Paul Mainieri, who said Newman would be out for a minimum of two weeks and then be re-evaluated, with a possibility of missing up to six weeks.

Privately, Mainieri was concerned his closer might be the third key cog in LSU’s machine to be lost for the year.

“I was concerned,” Mainieri said after Newman returned to the mound Friday. “I knew we were a few days away from a doctor deciding he had to do surgery. Fortunately he kept making improvement and the one form of treatment worked to a large degree. It kept him from having to have surgery.”

Newman, who served as LSU’s closer before the injury, logged two scoreless innings in the Texas A&M series. Both appearances came in non-save situations.

Friday, in his first game back, he struck out the side on 13 pitches. Saturday, he faced three batters and erased a one-out single with a double-play ball.

“It felt great being back on that mound,” Newman said.

He admitted to being concerned about how long the injury was going to keep him out. It was Newman's first back injury.

Newman still isn’t sure how it happened, saying it was not the result of throwing or lifting weights.

““It was a weird injury. ... I just woke up one morning, it felt a little tight and along the day it just got worse and worse,” Newman said.

LSU will continue to monitor Newman’s health as the season progresses with the knowledge that back injuries can be fickle.

“I know backs and herniated discs are very fragile things,” Mainieri said. “It could flare up on him again. We’re just going to have to see how it plays out. Hopefully he’s going to be OK.”

CHANGE AT FIRST BASE

With freshman Jake Slaughter mired in the worst offensive slump of his young career, Mainieri decided to shake things up for the last two games of the Texas A&M series.

Freshman Rankin Woley, who had not started in the field this season and had not started at all since serving as DH on March 8, found himself batting in the No. 6 spot in the lineup Saturday and starting at first base.

“We check the board every day when we walk in, and I saw that I was in the group that usually is the starters,” Woley said. “I was lucky enough to get a spot and perform the best I can.”

Woley’s only experience in the field this season had been at third base.

“I was trying to play anywhere I can, a versatility thing is a major factor and that’s something I try to strive for,” Woley said. “It was definitely an adjustment getting used to Kramer (Robertson’s) throws and Cole (Freeman’s) throws — I don’t usually take those. But it was an adjustment I was able to make.”

Woley went 2-for-8 at the plate in his two starts and was successful in all 15 of his defensive opportunities.

Slaughter, who was hitting .414 before the calendar flipped to March, had seen his average dip to its current .278 after going 0-3 with a strikeout in Thursday’s series opener.

In March, Slaughter went 15 for 68 (.221) with 23 strikeouts.

Follow Luke Johnson on Twitter, @ByLukeJohnson.