airforcelsu.022017    1088.jpg

LSU closer Hunter Newman (55) gets the last out with a strikeout in the ninth inning of LSU's 10-3 win over Air Force Academy Sunday in LSU's Alex Box Stadium.

LSU closer Hunter Newman on Sunday threw for the first time since he suffered a back injury and then threw again Monday, coach Paul Mainieri said.

Mainieri is holding out hope that Newman could be available for this weekend's Southeastern Conference series against Texas A&M, which begins at 6 p.m. Thursday in Alex Box Stadium.

"(We’ll) see how he feels tomorrow," Mainieri said Monday. "And then if he feels good again tomorrow, we’ll try to progress on Wednesday, and we’ll see how he does Wednesday. And if everything goes well, who knows? Maybe he can be active this weekend. We’ll see.” 

Newman, who hasn't pitched in a game since March 11, played catch Monday and then threw a "short box" — where the pitcher throws from the bottom portion of the mound. Newman has been dealing with nerve issues that were causing pain in his back and legs, but Mainieri said he was not feeling pain after he threw Monday.

The 6-foot-3 righty had been expected to miss at least two weeks and potentially more. Last Tuesday, he saw a doctor, who determined surgery was not necessary.

Caleb Gilbert has filled the closer's role in Newman's absence, most recently earning his third save of the season in Sunday's 10-6 win against Florida. 

Although the bullpen has been hampered by injuries, including Doug Norman's season-ending elbow issue, Mainieri said he has been impressed by the improvements made by his relievers. Freshman Matthew Beck, who has allowed just one hit in 9.2 innings, has been instrumental in the bullpen's progression, Mainieri said.

"Kids get opportunities because of different reason — in this particular case, with Norman and Newman’s injuries," Mainieri said. "I always liked Matthew. I always thought he was poised, competitive, threw strikes. I thought his curveball has tightened up a little bit. All of sudden, we just had to give him a chance because of the limits in the bullpen, and he’s been almost perfect since he’s been counted on." 

'Turn Back the Clock'

For the first time in nine years, LSU will wear throwback uniforms against Tulane for a "Turn Back the Clock" game at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Alex Box Stadium. 

The program unveiled the throwback uniforms in February with the rest of the Tigers' 2017 uniforms. The throwback look features a block "L" on the chest of the jersey and hat and a thick purple stripe running from the collar to the bottom of the jersey. 

LSU last wore retro uniforms in a 2008 game against the Green Wave, celebrating the final year of play at old Alex Box Stadium. 

Tigers freshman right-hander Zack Hess is slated to make his sixth start of the season. Mainieri said he will let the game dictate how long Hess will pitch. Newman's availability will also determine whether Hess will be needed out of the bullpen against the Aggies this weekend, Mainieri said. 

Tigers fall in polls

For the first time this season, LSU is outside of the top 10 in a major poll after its SEC series loss on the road. 

The Tigers (18-7, 4-2) fell in all four rankings, including to No. 13 in the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper poll. LSU dropped to No. 9 in Baseball America's poll and to No. 10 in Perfect Game's ranking. The Tigers slid only one spot to No. 6 in's top 25; they're still the highest-ranked SEC team in that poll.

Louisiana-Lafayette, which went 2-3 last week, fell out of Baseball America's poll.