The LSU baseball team will wrap up fall practice with a shortened version of its Purple and Gold World Series, beginning at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Alex Box Stadium.
The Tigers will play two seven-inning games instead of the customary three because of some injuries and fatigue, particularly on the pitching staff. Still, coach Paul Mainieri is looking for a competitive end to what has been a solid fall.
Mainieri looks at the six-week fall practice in three phases. In the beginning, it’s about instruction. After that, LSU starts to ramp up the competition with daily intrasquad scrimmages. The final phase is the Purple and Gold World Series.
“It kind of amps up the intensity a little bit,” Mainieri said. “Even though it’s basically the same kind of intrasquad games we’ve been having all fall, all of a sudden you’ve got more people in the stands, you’re under the lights, we’ve got four-man umpire crews instead of just one umpire calling balls and strikes.”
The games will be open to the public and free. For those wishing to catch an early glimpse at the 2017 team, here are some things to watch out for.
1: The players who won’t be there
Six players won’t be available for the fall finale, including a few who figure to play prominent roles this season.
Senior second baseman Cole Freeman injured his knee during a hit-and-run drill early last week. An MRI showed some damage that will keep him out this week. Freeman led the team with a .329 batting average last season.
“We’re a little concerned,” Mainieri said. “I don’t know how you define major or minor, but I think he’s got a little issue with his meniscus. So we’re not sure if he’s going to need corrective surgery or not, but we’re definitely going to keep him out of the Purple versus Gold.
“We don’t know how bad it is. He’s going to see another doctor (Wednesday) to get another opinion, and they’ll decide whether they need to go in there and clean it up a little bit or to rehab it. But we don’t think it’s going to be anything long term. … He’ll be ready to go, no question about it, by January.”
Nick Coomes, a junior-college transfer from LSU-Eunice, will be the only other position player held out after he broke his pinky toe.
The other four are pitchers. Alden Cartwright and Nick Bush should not come as any surprise, as neither have competed this fall while they rehabilitate injuries from last season.
Right-handers Cole McKay (sore arm) and Eric Walker (fatigue) will also be held out.
“(Walker) has thrown more this fall in a shorter period of time than he ever has before,” Mainieri said. “He’s just getting a little fatigued, and we just feel like it’s better to give him an extra week of rest.
“We shut him down a few days ago to give him an extra week of rest before we start up the throwing program in December. He’s already shown enough this fall that we know he’s going to be right in the mix this spring.”
2: The pitching matchups
Junior Alex Lange and senior Jared Poché are the clear front-runners in the rotation and will start against each other Thursday.
The more interesting battle is shaping up behind them, where LSU is auditioning several players for two starting spots.
Walker, despite being held out, is in the mix. So are Game 2’s starters Caleb Gilbert and Zach Hess, as well as Doug Norman and Todd Peterson, who would have started a Game 3 if there had been one.
“Gilbert and Hess, they’ve both been improving as fall practice has gone on,” Mainieri said. “I want to see if those two guys in particular will continue to ramp it up. They struggled in the early part of fall practice but have improved as it’s gone on.
“Now, with a little more spotlight on them, a little more pressure on them, we’ll see if they continue to go along the same lines they’ve been going.”
Mainieri is also hoping to get a look at hard-throwing junior-college transfer Hunter Kiel, who will serve as the closer for the Gold team. Mainieri said Kiel has as good an arm as anybody on the team to go along with a curveball that ranks just behind Lange’s.
“We’re going to put a little pressure on him this weekend,” Maineiri said. “We named him a closer for one of the teams to see if he can get big outs and the end of the game. We already know Hunter Newman can, let’s see if Hunter Kiel can throw the ball over the plate at the end of the game when we need it most.”
3: The All-Freshman left side
Lauded freshmen Josh Smith and Jake Slaughter will man the left side of the infield for the Gold squad in what could be LSU’s starting left side for the 2018 season.
Slaughter has been working at first base the past few weeks but will move to third base for the series. Smith, who had been working full time at third base, will play shortstop.
“I see Josh Smith’s long-term future at shortstop, and I see Slaughter’s long-term future as either a shortstop or third baseman,” Mainieri said. “We’re going to have them play together so those two guys are on one team.”
The position switch was also done, Mainieri said, to keep the two squads as equal as possible.
The winning team will be served a steak dinner by the losing team. The menu item for the losers? Hot dogs.
A winner will definitely be decided, even if the two games result in a split.
The first tiebreaker will be an extra inning Friday played with “international baseball rules,” meaning the inning will start with no outs and runners on first and second.
If things are still tied then, the winner will be decided by a home run derby between Greg Deichmann and Bryce Adams.
If both Deichmann and Adams homer the same number of times, the winner will be decided by an arm wrestling match between managers Christian Ibarra and Sean Ochinko.
“Obviously, it’s another level, another step in the development of the team,” Mainieri said. “But at the same time, we want to reward the guys for having gone through a good, hard fall practice. We’re trying to make it as fun as we can. It’ll be a good showing for fans who want to come out and get a good glimpse of the 2017 Tigers.”