After four missed starts and more than a month of recovery, freshman Cole Henry will soon pitch again for LSU.
Henry will start when the Tigers begin the Southeastern Conference tournament Tuesday night in an elimination game against South Carolina.
Before the team’s bus left on Monday afternoon for Hoover, Alabama, coach Paul Mainieri said he hoped Henry could give LSU three innings before a couple relievers finished the game.
“So much of it will depend on how he's feeling and how easy the innings are,” Mainieri said. “It could only be one inning if he's really taxed.”
When you think about it, Saturday’s 5-4, 11-inning loss to Auburn was really was the perfect way for LSU’s erratic regular season to end.
Henry, who’s 4-2 with a 3.26 ERA, last pitched on April 19 against Florida. He struck out 12 — the most by an LSU pitcher in a game this season — to earn SEC Co-Freshman of the Week.
As LSU planned to move Henry into the role of the team’s ace after his performance against the Gators, Henry woke up feeling tenderness in his right elbow.
Doctors performed an MRI on Henry’s arm. The results of the test, viewed by multiple doctors, showed no structural damage.
“It just didn't feel right for him,” Mainieri said. “He was free to throw as much he could tolerate it. It's just taken a while for him to feel normal again.”
Without Henry at the front of the weekend rotation, LSU reworked its pitching staff, using players on the weekend it intended to use during midweek games. The Tigers’ ERA ballooned by almost three runs before their series two weeks ago against Arkansas.
Henry inched toward a return as LSU approached the end of the regular season. Before LSU played Auburn on Saturday, he threw about 25 pitches during a simulated game, the final step in his recovery.
Mainieri said Henry looked “rusty” that day. Henry didn't have great command — he hadn't pitched in four weeks — and Mainieri said a couple of curveballs slipped from his hand. But Henry felt healthy, and he threw again on Monday.
“Today when I watched him throw,” Mainieri said, “he looked a little more sharp.”
Here are three takeaways from LSU baseball's series against Auburn, which ended the regular season.
LSU enters the SEC tournament fighting to host an NCAA regional, and the Tigers need as many wins as possible to bolster their résumé for the selection committee. If they beat South Carolina, they will play Mississippi State on Wednesday night.
The Gamecocks have the lowest batting average (.236) in the conference, but they have hit 75 homers, the second-most in the league.
Aside from the simulated game, Henry has only thrown a couple bullpens in the last month. With such little time on the mound since his last start, LSU won’t use him too long against South Carolina.
“If he can go there and throw three really good innings tomorrow night within a reasonable pitch amount, perhaps next weekend in the NCAA tournament he can throw five innings,” Mainieri said. “That gives us then three bonafide starting pitchers for the NCAA tournament.”
Columnist Scott Rabalais contributed to this report.