When the LSU baseball team takes the field for the first time Friday against Notre Dame, it will be with a drastically different look than expected.
Hunter Feduccia, the presumed opening-day starter behind the plate, will not be ready to play in the Tigers' season-opening series against Notre Dame after he broke his left hand a few weeks ago. That sets off a flurry of unexpected moves.
Bryce Jordan, a junior, will make his first start behind the plate. He was expected to open the season as LSU’s starting first baseman.
That opens a spot at first base for freshman Nick Webre, who has forced the issue with his consistently strong offensive play in the preseason.
The seed for this plan was planted about a week ago, when Mainieri started having serious doubts about Feduccia’s availability for the Notre Dame series.
Mainieri was mainly concerned about depth at catcher. Though Jordan has not caught a game since high school, he wanted to see what Jordan had.
“I always had (Jordan) listed on my own personal depth chart as an emergency guy," Mainieri said, "but I didn’t want to catch him because I was worried about his knee after having reconstructive surgery (last spring). ...
“I went to Bryce and asked him how his knee felt, and he assured me it was 100 percent.”
Jordan showed no signs of rust when he donned his catcher’s gear, Mainieri said. He caught a full seven-inning scrimmage Tuesday, blocked “every pitch” and threw out two runners on the bases.
Jordan made four appearances behind the plate in 2016, all as a late-inning replacement.
Mainieri’s initial plan was to start senior Nick Coomes behind the plate Friday, but health concerns nixed that, too. While batting in a scrimmage Tuesday, Coomes took a pitch off his throwing elbow, then later took another off his throwing shoulder while he was catching.
Coomes was not allowed to throw at Wednesday’s practice, and Mainieri wanted him to have the extra day of rest. He said Coomes will likely be back in the starting lineup Saturday.
Nick Coomes insisted the pain was not too much to deal with last season, but it is hard to fathom how.
But even if Coomes appears in the starting lineup Saturday, Mainieri said not to expect Jordan to slide back to first base.
“I’ve always been a guy who doesn’t hand things to kids,” Mainieri said. “They have to earn it. And I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror without putting Nick Webre in the lineup. He’s earned it.”
Webre’s bat earned him an opportunity as an everyday player, Mainieri said. In 11 spring scrimmages (through Tuesday), Webre is tied with or leading all LSU hitters in average (.344), hits (11), doubles (five), home runs (two) and RBIs (seven).
“I just think he’s an everyday player for us,” Mainieri said. “I’m going to throw him right in there.”
As for Feduccia, Mainieri is not sure when he will be ready to play, and the coach did not sound sure of what Feduccia's role will be when he returns.
Feduccia tried to resume normal activities in the past week, catching some bullpens and taking some batting practice. But he told Mainieri he was experiencing pain while catching Tuesday night.
“We just need to let it continue to heal and just wait,” Mainieri said. “When he’s ready to go, we’ll see where we are. We’ll see what the best combination is.”
In all his years of coaching, Paul Mainieri still has not quite figured out how much stock to put into preseason scrimmage outings, but he wil…
Mainieri said one other surprise might be in store this weekend, hinting that senior pitcher Austin Bain could get a start Saturday — at second base.
Bain came to LSU with two-way potential but has spent the entirety of his college career as a pitcher. But Mainieri gave him an opportunity near the end of the fall to play some infield, and Bain has shown enough to warrant legitimate playing time there.
Bain, Mainieri said, gives LSU some more potential for extra-base hits than current second basemen Brandt Broussard and Hal Hughes.
Mainieri said Bain will continue to work out of the bullpen, and he expects to get him an inning opening day.