With two weeks until opening day, coach Paul Mainieri said some LSU baseball players aren’t practicing because of coronavirus concerns. The number of players out, either because of positive tests or high-risk exposure, is unclear.
“It's really been a challenge these first few weeks from that standpoint,” Mainieri said. “The kids come back from Christmas break, and we have the same challenges that the rest of society is having right now. Hopefully everybody gets to feeling better soon, if you know what I'm saying, and we can get this behind us.”
LSU athletics hasn’t publicly released information about its coronavirus cases, citing student privacy laws, and declined to confirm specifics. But Mainieri indicated at least four pitchers, including two members of LSU’s weekend rotation, have missed time because of either positive tests or contact tracing. He didn’t say how many players are affected.
“I can't give you numbers, and I can't give you names,” Mainieri said. “Just suffice to say that we've had our challenges here in the first few weeks of the semester.”
Asked about the status of starting pitchers Landon Marceaux and AJ Labas, Mainieri said, "I have to be careful how I answer that because we have HIPAA rules and so forth. Let me just say this: They have no physical ailments at all," meaning they don’t have injuries that prevent them from practicing.
LSU was ranked No. 9 in the USA Today preseason poll released Thursday, marking the Tigers' fourth top-10 ranking of the year.
Marceaux and Labas, who form the starting rotation with junior Jaden Hill, were scheduled to speak during a virtual media day Jan. 29, the day LSU began preseason practice, but LSU canceled their appearances. Labas will return to practice Friday. Marceaux can return Sunday.
“You can use your imagination as to why,” Mainieri said.
Though unable to pitch for about two weeks, Mainieri said Marceaux and Labas have thrown “on their own.” The missed time might affect the length of their first starts, but Mainieri and pitching coach Alan Dunn said they feel optimistic they can make one scrimmage appearance and feel ready for the season.
“It's not like they haven't already faced hitters,” Mainieri said. “They have. I'm hoping that one good scrimmage game — not this weekend but next weekend — and they'll be ready to go for opening weekend. How far they'll be able to go will be the question.
“But I think in their case they'll be able to go a little further than most kids because of their experience and because of what they had done leading up to this little bit of a break that they had to take.”
LSU baseball released its 2021 walk-out music.
Marceaux and Labas, who are roommates, started in LSU’s weekend rotation last season. Marceaux pitched on Saturdays, and Labas threw on Sundays. They have multiple years of experience between them, making them two of the most critical players on an LSU team bolstered by its pitching staff.
Over four starts last year, Marceaux recorded a 2.70 ERA. He struck out 22 batters and issued seven walks as he debuted a new breaking ball. Once LSU returned from its extended offseason, Marceaux had the best fall practice of any pitcher on LSU’s team. He allowed five total runs.
Labas posted a 3.55 ERA after returning from a season-ending injury last spring. Across 25⅓ innings, Labas limited opponents to a .178 batting average. He posted three walks and 20 strikeouts, and he carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning against Oklahoma, making him the first LSU pitcher to complete seven straight hitless innings since Jared Poche in 2017.
Dunn said that experience will make up for the lost practices, and he feels unconcerned about Marceaux and Labas’ ability to pitch opening weekend, when LSU limits pitch counts to build through a 56-game season. He said the game and their performance will dictate how long they throw.
“Those guys are professionals in their approach, their mentality,” Dunn said, “They're so prepared with their routines. It's just a matter of getting them built up for innings.”
The first time freshman Tre’ Morgan practiced at LSU last fall, incumbent first baseman Cade Beloso knew he needed to help Morgan take his position.
LSU last dealt with coronavirus issues last fall. In late September, the Tigers had to delay the start of full-team workouts after the majority of the players entered quarantine for coronavirus exposure, multiple people with knowledge of the situation said at the time. LSU then completed a month of practice without an outbreak.
Now, LSU will scrimmage Thursday and Saturday, limited to two days this weekend because of its lack of starting pitchers. In addition to Marceaux and Labas, Hill hasn’t been able to practice since he got his wisdom teeth removed earlier this week, leaving LSU without a member of its weekend rotation.
Mainieri also said freshmen pitchers Will Hellmers and Garrett Edwards have to miss “a little bit of time” for undisclosed reasons. He said Hellmers “got a little bit ill” on Wednesday.
“We have a couple of other guys on the non-injury list but can't practice for a few days,” Mainieri said. “I can't really tell you who they are at this point. Outside of that, we're pretty healthy.”