The LSU baseball team is a week into spring practice and the comings and goings continue, with a few more health issues thrown in.
Coach Paul Mainieri announced Friday that sophomore righthander A.J. Labas will miss the 2019 season after undergoing shoulder surgery on Thursday. The Tigers added another familiar face to the roster when senior infielder Chris Reid was reinstated.
Mainieri also said a groin strain injury has sidelined staff ace Zack Hess and put his ability to start the season opener Feb. 15 against Louisiana-Monroe in jeopardy.
“I’m hoping he’s going to be ready to go for opening day, but I have a little bit of concern that may not happen,” Mainieri said. “If he’s ready to go next Friday, it will only be one solid outing, so I don’t expect him to go deep into the game opening day even if he’s able. But there’s a chance he may not be.”
Hess was running in the outfield for conditioning when he suffered the injury and threw only one inning on the first day of practice, Jan. 25, Mainieri said. He won’t pitch again until he’s “asymptomatic.”
“I’ve complete shut him down for four or five days,” Mainieri said. “I don’t want him doing anything but treatment. We tried to get him to throw this week, but it only aggravated it.”
Labas hoped to return after a Freshman All American season in 2018 when he went 6-2 with a 3.48 earned run average in 10 starts. He was shut down last year just before the start of the NCAA regionals last season.
"We were hopeful he would be able to return, but you take one step forward and two steps back,” Mainieri said. “We think the surgery was very successful. We expect him to make a full recovery and resume throwing at some point.”
Labas joins Nick Storz on the shelf. Mainieri said he is still hoping Storz can return in late April or early May.
“I do think we have the pitching and quality depth to overcome it,” Mainieri said.
Reid will begin practicing Saturday after becoming a victim of the 35-player roster limit last summer.
“When I broke the news to the team yesterday, there were a lot of smiles, and happy people,” Mainieri said. “Probably the most difficult aspect of my job is managing this roster since the rule was put in 10 years ago. I really don’t like the rule.”
LSU’s ability to keep so many of its high school recruits and the return of draftable players caused Mainieri to make the difficult decision to not retain Reid, who has started 67 career games, including 47 as a freshman, mostly at third base. He has a .275 career batting average with one homer and 24 runs batted in.
Mainieri said Reid will give the team some depth on the left side of the infield behind third baseman Hal Hughes and shortstop Josh Smith, where the backups are freshman Drew Bianco and Gavin Dugas.
“Chris could not play for 10 years, step up to the plate and put the bat on the ball, and make a routine play,” Mainieri said. “We have better athletes on our team but I’m not sure we have anybody that has the natural skills that a baseball player needs any better than Chris.
“He’s actually in really good shape, playing a lot of basketball and giving hitting lessons to young kids, coaching a 13-year-old team. He’s throwing a lot and hitting a lot. My guess is two weeks will be plenty, maybe more than needed.”
Duplantis, Bianco sitting out
Outfielder and leading hitter from 2018 Antoine Duplantis missed three days of practice because of a “stiff back,” Mainieri said. Also, freshman infielder Bianco strained a hamstring while diving for a ball. LSU had only 12 position players available for Friday’s scrimmage, including catcher Saul Garza, who is limited to batting.
“I have five managers playing in the intra-squad scrimmage today, can you believe that?” Mainieri said.
Mainieri said Hess’ injury has inserted some doubt into how the rotation will play out but so has the way freshmen righthanders Jaden Hill and Cole Henry have looked in the past week. They will compete with Landon Marceau for the third starter spot behind Hess and Eric Walker.
“Coming out of fall practice, I would have said Landon Marceau was a slam dunk for the rotation, but since we’ve come back, Jaden Hill has improved 1,000 percent,” Mainieri said. “I never saw Cole Henry throw in the fall because he was nursing an injury from high school. Oh, my goodness, it’s electric stuff. Now there’s some competition. Eric Walker is going to have to be really good.”
First base battle
The only wide-open position in the lineup is first base where freshmen Bianco, Dugas, Cade Beloso and C.J. Willis are competing. Maineiri said none have separated themselves and he’s not even sure who will start there in Saturday’s scrimmage.
“If you asked three days ago, I’d say C.J. Willis,” Mainieri said. “He was having a lot of great at bats and the next day he strikes out three times. They’ve all had some good moments, but other times they look like freshmen going against college pitching. It’s probably going to be a fluid position.”