At the latest, Alex Lange’s Friday morning will begin at 10 a.m., sitting inside a classroom with a pencil, Scantron and one vital piece of equipment.
“If you have a financial calculator,” Lange explained of his impending finance exam, “it’s like a minimum of a ‘B.’ ”
He’ll finish the test by at least 11 a.m. — anything later and “it won’t have gone too hot” — go back to his apartment and prepare for the first Friday night, series-opening home start of his LSU career.
Fulfilling a season-long attempt to move his ace into the front of the rotation, LSU coach Paul Mainieri will send Lange to open this weekend’s Arkansas series at Alex Box Stadium, moving Jared Poche to Saturday night.
Mainieri listed Sunday’s starter as “TBA,” leaving time for him to make his decision after the series’ first two games are complete.
John Valek III, the team’s listed third starter in every other series this season, is a “possibility,” Mainieri said, who added the left-hander could be used out of the bullpen, though Mainieri hopes to avoid that scenario.
“Lange has found his groove now,” Mainieri said. “He’s back to throwing with command. He’s just so confident out there and I feel he has the best chance to go out and dominate a game. I think this week it’s important, coming off two series losses in a row, to go out there with the guy who we feel gives us the best chance to get off to a good start.”
In 18 innings across two straight complete-game outings, Lange’s allowed 11 hits and three earned runs while issuing just two walks in economical, precise outings that featured a return of his 2015 command.
And, perhaps more importantly, Lange’s been able to harness that command when it wanders.
“Still feel like there’s some opportunities throughout the game where the command tends to waver,” Lange said. “But we got it back quicker than maybe in previous starts. That’s all it is. This game’s about adjustments and I’m trying to get better in in-game adjustments.”
Lange’s pitched the first game of just two SEC series this season — the first game of doubleheaders against Alabama and Auburn. Both were LSU losses and rain-delayed openers of series where Lange was scheduled to pitch the first game.
With both subsequent series beginning on Thursday, Mainieri was forced to bring Poche back on short rest in both instances, delaying the coach’s plans to solidify his rotation.
Poche surrendered 16 hits in his last 10 innings, including five doubles in a dismal four-inning start during LSU’s 7-6, series-opening loss to Ole Miss.
“Just fastball command,” Poche said of his recent struggles. “Stuff-wise, it’s been as good or better than it’s been this year. But when you’re throwing fastballs over the middle of the plate, guys are going to hit that.”
Conversation was scarce Thursday. Some players missed practice while finishing their exams. Second baseman Cole Freeman faces a 7:30 a.m. Friday wake-up call to finish his semester. Center fielder Jake Fraley must wait until 11 a.m, an hour after Lange, who ushers in a new phase of the LSU season.
“We’re just at that point in the season now where we’re trying to collect wins,” Mainieri said. “And on the first night, we want to go with the guy who has the chance to be the most dominating, has the most dominating stuff.”
Follow Chandler Rome on Twitter @Chandler_Rome