The tying run stood on deck in the ninth inning of a game LSU led 14-6 minutes earlier. Paul Mainieri summoned Hunter Newman to extinguish Grambling’s rally and ensure an LSU win.
Newman cruised, sandwiching two groundouts around an RBI triple to preserve LSU’s 14-11 midweek win on six pitches — four of which were strikes.
“I thought that was actually good for Hunter Newman to come in and get those last two outs with the game on the line and end the game and he did a great job,” Mainieri said after the win.
The right-hander could soon see himself in more save scenarios.
“That’s a strong consideration, that Hunter will be on the mound in the ninth inning,” Mainieri said Thursday before the team departed for a weekend series against Missouri. “But you can’t save a game in the ninth inning if you don’t get to the ninth inning with a lead, and that’s been a little bit of our Achilles heel. I’m going to have to see how the game plays out, what type of game it is. And if we can get to the ninth inning before we have to use Hunter, then that would be a good time to use him, but we might have to use him earlier than that.”
Newman’s short stint against Grambling was preceded by a 2.2-inning, two-hit save against Vanderbilt — his first of the season and only LSU’s third as a team — where the floppy-haired Georgia native struck out six Commodores on 45 pitches in a 3-2 win.
A day later, freshman Caleb Gilbert, who was named the LSU closer early in the season, issued a three-run home run in the eighth inning to blow a six-out save opportunity and give Vanderbilt a 9-7 lead — one it would not relinquish.
Gilbert, who entered SEC play with a 0.87 ERA, has since seen it rise to 4.66. He’s allowed seven earned runs in his last 2.2 SEC innings and 12 hits in his last five appearances. After Gilbert’s struggles against Vanderbilt, Mainieri surmised the freshman wasn’t trusting his fastball and was trying to be “too fine” with his pitches.
“In the SEC, you’re going to have plenty of one-run games, so getting out there, having more experience in close-run games, it really helps me out a lot,” Newman said. “As long as I’m helping the team get the W, I have the same mindset of executing my pitches, getting hitters out and keeping my team in the game.”
Latz doesn’t respond well after collegiate debut
Jake Latz and his surgically mended left elbow did not respond well to his 36-pitch collegiate debut, Mainieri said, and his prognosis is unclear.
Latz made his much anticipated debut on Tuesday, lasting 1.1 innings during his start in a 7-0 loss to McNeese State. He sat at 90-91 mph with his fastball in his first inning, where he recorded two strikeouts and issued a solo home run, but dipped to 88-89 in a second inning where he threw 21 pitches and was pulled after recording one out.
“He didn’t feel so good the next day,” Mainieri said. “Not sure (if he’s going back to the doctor). He didn’t respond to the game as well as we would have hoped after the fact. It’s still a concern.”
Latz was among the seven players who did not travel with LSU to Missouri to fulfill SEC travel roster limits. Alden Cartwright, Nick Bush, O’Neal Lochridge, Cody Ducote, Bryce Adams and Cole McKay were the other six.
In the fourth week of battling a stress fracture in his back, Lochridge was a full participant in the Tigers’ pregame warmups prior to Tuesday’s game, but did not participate before Wednesday’s game against McNeese after he, too, didn’t respond well.
Lochridge’s participation on Tuesday was his first time back into LSU’s full warmups. He practiced in full on Monday, also for the first time since his injury.
Follow Chandler Rome on Twitter, @Chandler_Rome