Fall baseball is almost over at LSU, and the matchup is set for Thursday night’s Purple and Gold World Series opener.
Two freshman right-handers, Alex Lange and Jake Godfrey, will take the mound at 6:30 p.m. to face off and possibly make an early impression on LSU coach Paul Mainieri and pitching coach Alan Dunn.
The rookie duo has been impressive since the beginning of the fall season. Now the pitchers take center stage in their first critical starts since they arrived.
“I’m hoping to see two guys compete as hard as they can and pound that strike zone with their outstanding stuff,” Mainieri said. “There’s something about the Purple and Gold World Series that increases the intensity level a little bit.”
There’s plenty on the line — the losing team has to serve the winning squad steaks at the end-of-fall team party. It’s safe to assume neither Lange nor Godfrey wants to be the reason his team eats hot dogs instead.
“We’re under the lights, and it’ll be a little bit cool. We’re trying to simulate a weekend series in early spring as much as possible,” Mainieri said. “I wanted those two guys to start the game and feel the adrenaline rush and the atmosphere and see how they handle it.”
Mainieri said Lange and Godfrey will be “main players” this season, adding they have the “best arms” on LSU’s staff.
Four freshmen — Lange, Godfrey, left-hander Jake Latz and right-hander Doug Norman — are all candidates for a weekend rotation spot once the season begins Feb. 13.
One sophomore, left-hander Jared Poché, will likely be an early favorite for the Friday night slot after finishing 9-3 with a 2.45 ERA and 52 strikeouts last season. Mainieri said there could also be room for Poché at the back end of the bullpen, though.
“We could potentially put Poché as a closer and have an all-freshman rotation,” Mainieri said. “Anything is possible at this point. We’re just not sure yet.”
Mainieri last worked with an all-rookie rotation in 2011 with Kurt McCune, Ryan Eades and Kevin Gausman. He said he isn’t concerned about the experience of his staff.
“Sure, I’d rather them have a lot of experience, but I’d rather have talented players than non-talented players,” Mainieri said. “If they’re freshmen and they’re our best guys, then we’re going to use them. They’ll adapt quickly. Experiences like Thursday night will help.”
Out in left field
As the final days of fall practice arrive, left field remains a question mark.
Last season, then-freshman Jake Fraley solidified his status as a regular, accumulating a .983 fielding percentage while hitting .372 with three home runs and 29 RBIs.
But Fraley has struggled with the bat this fall, while senior Chris Sciambra and freshman Beau Jordan have impressed.
“When Jake comes back in January, it’s going to be an important time for him,” Mainieri said. “I love the kid ... but nobody can rest on their past laurels. This is a production business, and you have to get the job done if you want to stay in there. He’s had an extended slump this fall, and other guys have out-hit him.”
Bryce Jordan out
Freshman infielder Bryce Jordan will miss the World Series opener with a bone bruise in his knee, Mainieri said.
“He was running out a ground ball the other day, and when he lunged at first base, his leg was kind of extended when he hit the bag,” Mainieri said.
Mainieri said the injury wasn’t serious, and Jordan could return before the end of the weekend.