The LSU bullpen has not allowed a run in eight games.
It has logged 29⅓ consecutive scoreless innings, dating to the March 21 game against Tulane, when AJ Labas entered in the second inning and allowed four runs in the third.
Since that point, the LSU relief corps has put up numbers that are borderline ridiculous: In its 29⅓-inning scoreless streak, the bullpen has struck out 38 batters against just six walks and 13 hits.
It was not that long ago that the pitching staff — including a largely unproven bullpen — was regarded as the Tigers' weak link. Now, as they visit Texas A&M for a three-game series that begins at 7 p.m. Thursday, the bullpen looks like a strength.
“I think guys are coming into their own and believing into their abilities, and when you do that, you can go out and have success,” pitching coach Alan Dunn said.
LSU coach Paul Mainieri said the greatest quality a coach can have is to know his team — its strengths, and its weaknesses — in order to maximize that team’s chance at success.
“Sometimes it takes a little while to figure out what are those strengths and weaknesses,” Mainieri said. “But when you discover them ... you find those roles and you don’t ask them to do too much.
“Put them in situations where you think it breeds success. The more success they have, the greater their confidence grows and they embrace that role and become major contributors.”
So. LHP Nick Bush: 10 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 7 K in past seven games
Technically, Bush has not set up many games for closer Austin Bain this season because the Tigers have shown a knack for scoring late in games, erasing save situations.
But Bush has shined under pressure. He made a big leap in effectiveness, Dunn said, because he improved his ability to command his fastball.
Jumping ahead in the count has allowed the sophomore left-hander to mix in his secondary stuff more often, and it has made Bush difficult to square up — especially when throwing his excellent changeup, which fades away from right-handed hitters.
“Listen, you’re a left-handed pitcher and predominantly seeing a lot of right-handed hitters. That’s a huge weapon for you,” Dunn said.
Bush pitched some big innings during LSU’s postseason run last summer, but he was not exactly a proven product. He heard the rumblings before the year.
“We knew coming into this year that the talk was the pitching was going to be our downside. ... We had to step up and get the job done on our side,” Bush said.
Fr. RHP Devin Fontenot: 11⅓ IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 18 K in past nine games
So. RHP Matthew Beck: 14⅔ IP, 7 H, 2 ER, 6 BB, 24 K this season
If an LSU starting pitcher goes six strong innings and hands a lead to the bullpen, it is a good bet either Beck or Fontenot will be the first to get the call.
"Once the game starts, you just tell yourself, ‘As soon as the starter comes out, I could be the first guy in,’ ” Fontenot said.
Beck has been fantastic all season, and after some early struggles, Fontenot has been utterly dominant in his past nine outings.
Beck's fastball was ordinary last season at 85 or 86 mph. This season, it spiked above 90 mph — and, like Bush, it has made his secondary stuff better.
“It gives me an opportunity to get to my breaking ball a little more frequently,” Beck said.
He essentially got through last year with one pitch. The added juice this season has made opposing hitters respect his fastball and his curveball, and Beck is striking out nearly 15 batters per nine innings.
An added bit of value from Fontenot: He has proven he can sustain his stuff for extended outings. He has recorded five or more outs in four of his last eight appearances.
Fr. LHP John Kodros: 5 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 K this season
Kodros did not pitch until March 11, the result of a shoulder injury that flared up after Christmas break.
But he has quickly become the guy LSU uses in a tricky situation. Kodros has inherited five runners this season, and none has come home to score.
Asked about what has made Kodros so good in these situations, Mainieri responded: “Have you ever tried to hit a curveball?”
“When the pressure is greatest on the hitters and you’ve got a guy that can throw a curveball for strikes, or it’s a good enough curveball to make them chase it out of the zone, that’s a role I think allows for him to be successful, because that’s his greatest strength,” Mainieri said.
THE LONG RELIEF
So. RHP Todd Peterson: 11.2 IP, 10 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 19 K in past eight games
Peterson struggled as LSU’s Sunday starter but has found a home in the bullpen. The difference: He hasn't needed to worry about using a full repertoire because he is not trying to get through a lineup two or three times.
Now he can rear back and hum his fastball. He touched 96 Tuesday against Nicholls State. Peterson may no longer need to go six innings, but three or four? Sure.
“When he comes in for spurts, for a couple of innings before he gets through the lineup one time? His stuff can be overpowering,” Mainieri said.