The meeting of the minds between LSU’s coaches beneath Alex Box Stadium’s drenched grandstands Thursday night didn’t produce the answers Paul Mainieri wanted to hear.
He wanted his ace pitcher back on the mound against No. 1-ranked Florida. He wanted back the sliver of offensive momentum his Tigers were generating against unbeaten Gators starter Logan Shore in the third inning when the game was halted by approaching storms. He wanted not to have Mother Nature scramble up LSU’s oh-so-crucial series against Florida and his pitching plans for next week’s Southeastern Conference tournament.
But as the skies poured down and lightning flashed like fireworks on the Fourth of July and the thunder rumbled ominously, Mainieri was left to sweep up the debris of a weather-fouled situation that not even the appearance of a rally possum could fix.
His Tigers were dealt a bad break by the elements, and now they’re going to have to try to make do the best they can against the best team in the country.
First, the schedule, which now looks like one of those big soft pretzels they sell at the concession stand.
Because more rain is expected through most of the day Friday, Thursday’s “halted game” as Mainieri called it won’t be resumed until 11 a.m. Saturday morning. Friday’s 6 p.m. game still goes on as scheduled, weather permitting, and now Saturday’s scheduled 3:30 p.m. game becomes a scheduled seven-inning affair. Potentially, if the resumed game goes too long, it could be halted again Saturday and resumed yet again after the scheduled 3:30 p.m. game.
What if Friday’s game is interrupted by weather? It would probably be, pardon the expression, a washout. With the SEC tournament set to start Tuesday in Hoover, Alabama, the SEC regular season must end Saturday. And no fair playing all or parts of three games in one day.
It’s a mess, all right, but no more so than LSU’s pitching plans.
Mainieri went with ace Alex Lange on Thursday despite the fact the sophomore threw 121 pitches last Friday at Tennessee after Lange worked him like a state capitol lobbyist. Lange rewarded his coach by dealing some strong stuff in his three innings of work, giving up a couple of hits and a walk but popping Jordan Romero’s glove with a sleek fastball and snapping off deadly breaking balls like they were rolling off a table.
“Lange was on,” Mainieri said with glum appreciation in his voice, the sound of a man who bought a winning lottery ticket but now can’t find it.
Lange threw 39 pitches, but he’s probably done for the weekend. Mainieri said he could possibly return for some relief work Saturday, but the LSU coach is more likely to save him for a single-elimination SEC tournament opener Tuesday that, well, now looks more likely given the meteorological circumstances.
LSU was going to throw junior-college transfer Riley Smith in Friday’s game two against menacing 6-foot-7 Florida left-hander A.J. Puk, widely presumed to be the No. 1 selection in this year’s draft. Smith was expected to be the Tigers’ Sunday starter until preseason arm issues kept him from making his first start until last week at Notre Dame.
Now, as far as Smith goes, the shifting sands of this weekend’s schedule altered those plans, too. The Tigers will now go with junior lefty Jared Poche on Friday and throw Smith either in the resumption of the halted game Saturday morning or in the seven-inning affair Saturday afternoon.
LSU went into this weekend series still hoping against hope to continue their late-season surge and claim at least a share of the SEC regular-season championship. Those hopes are taking on water now – as was the Alex Box Stadium outfield late Thursday night. Mainieri wasn’t ruling out any prospects, but you could definitely hear his plans take on a different tone with the SEC tournament beginning to come into view.
If LSU can’t do enough this weekend to earn even a top-four seed in Hoover, then the Tigers will find themselves in a single-elimination contest sometime Tuesday in the SEC tournament. If the Tigers are still to retain some hope of securing at top-eight NCAA tournament seed after this weekend it will probably have to come with a deep run in Hoover and possibly the tournament title.
It’s highly questionable whether LSU would have enough pitching to accomplish that feat beginning from Tuesday’s starting blocks, but you have to start Lange then to even have a chance.
For that reason, doubling back in this M.C. Escher of a series, you only see Lange again against Florida if the Tigers have a chance to grab a piece of the regular-season title.
Confused? Disappointed? Tiger fans, Mainieri feels your pain for sure.
He’d like some answers. Different ones. The ones he wanted were gone with the wind on a stormy night at The Box.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.