Jake Latz on Monday said his arm feels “really fresh right now.”
That comes as no surprise considering the freshman southpaw has gone the first 44 games of the season having still not thrown his first college pitch as he battles a stress reaction in his throwing elbow.
That could change soon. With three weekends left in the regular season, Latz is on the path to his first career appearance.
LSU coach Paul Mainieri said the rookie will throw a bullpen session Tuesday. Depending on the results, the freshman could continue tossing regular bullpen sessions before possibly seeing game action against UNO on May 12.
If he doesn’t pitch against UNO, Mainieri said he “probably” won’t return this season.
“I feel great right now,” said Latz, who began preseason practice as a candidate for a weekend starting spot. “I’m just going to take it how I’m feeling each day, and just hopefully I get better and better. It’s been a really good past couple of weeks, and hopefully I can keep it going and finally get back out there.”
Latz said he would be willing to pitch in any role for the Tigers, even as a lefty specialist out of the bullpen. The goal has been to pitch in 2015, but he has been cautious to not rush back to the mound.
“I only have one (throwing) arm, so I’m just making sure I’m doing everything right,” Latz said. “I’m doing everything I can to go out there and help my team.”
Before his injury, Latz’s fastball velocity typically hovered from 88 to 92 mph. The Lemont, Illinois, native said he feels his velocity is returning to that range.
“We haven’t been radaring or anything,” Latz said, “but from what I feel in my body, it’s a huge difference from the fall and a little bit of the spring.”
Just a month ago, Mainieri said he would have given a 10 percent chance to Latz returning this year as the freshman continued to feel discomfort in the arm during a throwing program. Things have changed.
“The last 10 days to two weeks have really been positive,” Mainieri said.
Rotation at MSU
LSU (37-7, 14-6 Southeastern) likely will keep its starting rotation the same for the Thursday to Saturday series at Mississippi State this week, Mainieri suggested.
The coach won’t make an announcement on his rotation until Wednesday, but he said freshman Alex Lange will get a full six days of rest between last Friday’s start against Texas A&M and the start against Mississippi State.
That puts Lange starting Game 2 on Friday against the Bulldogs (23-21, 7-14). Sophomore Jared Poché is expected to start the series opener Thursday, and freshman Austin Bain likely will start Game 3.
Lange was moved to the No. 1 role for a series at Georgia before moving back to the No. 2 slot last week in a series win over A&M to give him more rest. He’ll have a normal amount of rest this week, and Mainieri hopes that will help the rookie.
“His arm is healthy, feels good,” Mainieri said. “I think you’re going to see him even better this weekend that he has a full six-day period between his starts.”
Stallings not locating
Mainieri still has confidence in Jesse Stallings, but the closer isn’t locating his pitches well enough — a reason for his recent struggles, the coach said.
Stallings, who started 8-for-8 in save chances this season, has blown his past three save opportunities against SEC teams and is 1-for-4 in saves in the league.
“I still have a great deal of confidence in Jesse,” Mainieri said. “He’s had three blown saves in conference play, and if you look at the reasons why, it’s the location of his pitches. It hasn’t been because he doesn’t have the stuff. Hitters have turned around 94-mph fastballs. That’s not an easy thing to do — certainly not when he puts it in a good place.”
Stallings most recently blew a save Thursday against Texas A&M. He blew saves against Ole Miss, Kentucky and Alabama as well. Two of those three ended in losses.
“He just has to be a little bit more fine with where he puts those pitches,” Mainieri said. “It’s no secret he doesn’t have the best secondary pitches, so that puts more pressure on the fastball.”
Alcorn State (11-36) at LSU (37-7)
When: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Alex Box Stadium
Rankings: LSU is the No. 1 team in the nation in all six polls. Alcorn is not ranked.
Projected starting pitchers: ASU So. LHP Jonathan Morales (0-4, 6.94 ERA) vs. LSU Sr. LHP Kyle Bouman (1-1, 5.75)
Online: SEC Network+
Radio: WDGL-FM, 98.1; KLWB-FM, 103.7; WWL-AM, 870; WWL-FM, 105.3
In-game updates: @DellengerAdv
What to watch: Foul balls? Alex Box’s foul poles were snapped by strong winds during the thunderstorm that hit Baton Rouge on Monday. Temporary poles are expected to be in place for Tuesday’s game.