FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — The absence of freshman Cole Henry has created a domino effect on the LSU baseball team the past three weeks.
Henry had established himself as LSU’s most reliable starting pitcher, and coach Paul Mainieri wanted to throw him Friday night, making him the team’s ace. Then Henry felt discomfort in his right arm.
Though an MRI showed no structural damage, Henry is at home while LSU plays Arkansas this weekend. He has missed three starts.
Henry entered the weekend rotation in early March. With Henry starting the second game of a weekend series, LSU had a team ERA of 3.98. The Tigers went 17-12.
Without Henry, the Tigers have a 6.70 ERA over their past nine games. They are 4-5 in that span.
Who's starting, how to watch and what to watch for when LSU baseball ends its series against Arkansas.
Henry’s injury, combined with the lack of overall depth — five other pitchers are injured — has required LSU to use players in unanticipated roles. Ma’Khail Hilliard started the opener of the past two series after pitching in relief and starting midweek games. Eric Walker moved up in the rotation. Chase Costello started his first game Tuesday.
“The guys who should be pitching in the middle of the week are being forced into the weekend,” Mainieri said. “The guys who should have a supplemental role are pitching in the middle of the week.
"In the (Southeastern Conference) you have to pitch the best guys you have available on the weekend. One injury or two injuries have so much more of an affect when it’s your pitchers.”
LSU entered the season thinking it had a “really, really great rotation,” Mainieri said. Henry didn’t even pitch opening weekend. Then Jaden Hill strained his Ulnar Collateral Ligament (UCL), Landon Marceaux spent a chunk of the season injured and Zack Hess didn't pan out as a starter.
They gave new LSU athletic director Scott Woodward a piece of the “Win!” bar from the Tiger Stadium goalposts on his first official day on the…
Henry provided a consistent presence. He never allowed more than four runs. He earned SEC co-freshman of the week after striking out 12 batters against Florida.
LSU won its first series without Henry, but none of its starters — Hilliard, Walker and Marceaux — pitched more than four innings against Ole Miss last weekend. LSU lost twice to the Rebels, and over its past three games, the Tigers have allowed 45 runs.
“Bottom line, we got to be better,” Walker said. “Bullpen has to be better. Starters have to be better. We have to do a better job, be more consistent.”
As LSU has fallen behind early in games, Mainieri said hitters have pressed. They can’t take a couple innings to find their rhythm. The cycle has created inconsistency, something that has plagued LSU throughout the season.
LSU baseball gave up five home runs as it lost to Arkansas 14-4 on Thursday night.
“If you want to have a consistent team,” Maineri said, “your starting pitching has to be very consistent.”
That has not happened for LSU, especially without Henry.
This weekend, Mainieri said Henry planned to throw three times while at home in Alabama. Then LSU would evaluate him on Monday.
If Henry feels healthy, he will begin a series of steps designed to regain his strength and range of motion before he pitches again. Even then, Mainieri said he will be limited when he returns.
The timing of Henry’s injury has put LSU in a difficult spot. The Tigers cannot rush him back, but the regular season is almost over, and they are sitting on the edge of hosting an NCAA regional.
"It's frustrating because you want him out there," Mainieri said, "but you can't force him."