Tulane baseball coach David Pierce doesn’t want to waste a pitch.
In turn, the Green Wave’s first-year chief is already toying with his rotation and bullpen to maximize every possible outing. The boldest move comes in the form of likely moving former Freshman All-America closer Ian Gibaut into a starting role as he begins his junior season.
After racking up 12 saves in 40.1 innings as a freshman, Gibaut’s production tailed off considerably, suffering through arm injuries and throwing just 12.1 innings in last year’s 23-29 season. Now, Gibaut is being given the chance to earn a spot as the team’s ace.
“Right now, I’m trying to build him up to have that ability to start,” Pierce said. “There’s no doubt he has the strongest arm on our team. And he can play a vital role as a starting pitcher, but he’s also so useful as a closer. We just want to utilize him as much as possible and make it work best for us.”
Alongside Gibaut’s top-notch fastball and deceiving changeup, Pierce said the 6-foot-3, 220-pounder has evolved his third pitch from a curveball into a slider, and it’s been particularly effective in scrimmages. Although he spent the summer as a closer in the prospect-heavy Cape Cod League, surrendering a 5.49 ERA while striking out 19 batters in 14 innings, he isn’t concerned about making the transition.
In fact, moving into the rotation is a challenge Gibaut is eager to accept. He said now that he’s 100 percent healthy, there aren’t any concerns that a high pitch count or a change in mentality will slow him down. He hopes to make his first start on Feb. 13 in Malibu, California, when the Green Wave open its season at Pepperdine.
“I’m super excited about moving into a starter, and it gives me a chance to throw as many innings as I possibly can,” Gibaut said. “It’s a lot more than a closing role where I’ll only throw 40 to 50 innings. I feel like I can hold up pretty well and last seven, eight or nine innings.”
Even if he’s a weekend starter, there’s still a chance Gibaut could be used as a closer in midweek games by simply pushing his start back one day. Pierce said in his previous stint at Sam Houston State, where he reached three consecutive NCAA tournaments, he routinely moved pitchers in and out of the rotation to take advantage of matchups and situations.
“You have to think about conserving more as a starter, and think about the long run and getting into the seventh or eighth inning,” Gibaut said. “You just have to keep something in the tank, and that’s not much of an issue as a closer. But as long as I’m aware of it and throw the right way, moving back and forth shouldn’t be a problem.”
Organizing the outfield
Tulane’s three outfield spots have provided the most intense point of consternation for Pierce and his staff during preseason practice.
He said six contenders could lock down spots. Incumbent starters Richard Carthon and Lex Kaplan are joined by Grant Brown, John Gandolfo, Hunter Lapeyre and Jackson Johnson in a heated competition.
However, none of them have emerged at this point to give Pierce a clear idea as to whom to pencil into the starting lineup if the season began today.
“There’s hardly any separation right now,” Pierce said. “That’s kind of difficult, because some guys need to start separating themselves. The interesting part is that we have three left-handed hitters and three right-handed hitters. All of them are valuable, so I could see us using up to six guys out there.”
Kaplan, Carthon and Brown all said the key to propping themselves above the competition is simply the ability to get on base consistently, whether it be via line-drive hits, bunt singles, walks or beating out groundballs.
“There’s four to six of us who could play and start, and it means that every chance you get is one where you have to grind and make plays,” Kaplan said. “It’s a lot different than last year, I think.”
The Green Wave’s roster features three prolific runners in Carthon, Brown and shortstop Stephen Alemais. All of whom, according to Pierce, will be called upon to steal bases often this season.
“We have those three guys who can really run, but the rest of our runners are pretty average,” Pierce said. “But we just want to utilize their speed and use all three guys who can put pressure on the defense to help the guys in the middle of the order.”
In preseason practices, Tulane’s staff has allowed all three free rein to steal bases whenever they see an opportunity so it can judge how they perform in a game situation. However, Pierce said that when the season begins, any stolen bases will be called from the dugout until their production is proven.
“We really call all of our steals until we really get trust from the runner and he gives us the understanding that he can do it,” Pierce said. “If he can do it, then we want him to do it, because he wants to run, then we want him to.”