Jack Wholestaff is back.
LSU coach Paul Mainieri is not announcing a starter for Sunday’s Game 3 this weekend against Missouri after Austin Bain struggled in the series finale at Mississippi State last weekend.
A solid, consistent Game 3 starter is a luxury the Tigers haven’t had over the past two seasons, and Mainieri suggested that he might turn to a group of relievers to split up the third games of the series.
“I always feel like our ace in the hole is Jack Wholestaff,” Mainieri said. “To think you can go out there and run three guys out there that are going to be dominating starting pitchers every weekend, that’s probably wishful thinking.”
Ranked the consensus No. 1 team in the nation a third straight week, the Tigers (40-8, 16-7 Southeastern Conference) head into the Friday-Sunday clash with Missouri (28-20, 14-10) feeling good about plenty of things.
LSU is a near lock for a top-eight national seed, tied with Texas A&M (41-7, 16-7) for the top spot in the SEC West, and a half-game behind Vanderbilt in the overall standings.
The only concern? That No. 3 starter.
Bain is just the latest to have a bumpy start in that spot. He allowed four hits and two runs and walked two in a start that lasted just two innings and 44 pitches. It “stressed” the bullpen in an 8-7 loss in 12 innings to Mississippi State.
“I’m a little bit concerned, in all honesty,” Mainieri said.
It’s the fifth time this season that an LSU pitcher threw less than four innings in a start in the third game of a series. Bain just moved into the weekend rotation for Jake Godfrey.
LSU’s starters in Game 3s this season — Zac Person (one start), Godfrey (eight) and Bain (two) — have an ERA of 3.82 and have struck out 28 and walked 27. They’ve allowed 51 hits in a combined 44.2 innings.
“When we had (Kevin) Gausman, (Aaron) Nola and (Ryan) Eades in our weekend rotation, we had two first-rounders and a second-rounder,” Mainieri said. “That’s a very highly unusual situation to have, really.”
So who would be candidates to start Sunday? Bain is an obvious one. The start against Mississippi State was just his third SEC start since moving into a weekend role after a 6.2-inning relief outing against Alabama on April 4.
Person was used in a Game 3 against Auburn — when Lange rested and Bain pitched in Game 2. Parker Bugg, Doug Norman and Russell Reynolds could be options, too.
Who is likely not an option? Godfrey, Mainieri said. The freshman from Illinois has been too good out of the bullpen to move back into a starting role for now.
“I think Godfrey’s found a niche at this point in his career,” the coach said. “He comes in, and he’s throwing hard and throwing that slider off that fastball, and I think he can dominate there for a short period of time.”
While LSU’s starter is “TBA” for Sunday, sophomore Jared Poché will start Friday, and freshman Alex Lange will get the nod Saturday.
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @DellengerAdv.