As LSU searched for someone to help bolster its struggling bullpen, eight pitchers — six of them freshmen — combined to shut out UL-Monroe in a 5-0 win inside Alex Box Stadium.
Whole-staff approaches can leave teams vulnerable if one player has a bad outing, but LSU allowed seven hits. The Tigers remained undefeated in their midweek games, and while they have faltered against Southeastern Conference opponents, they haven't lost to an in-state team.
With a bullpen that has struggled to seal close games, LSU (22-14) hoped Tuesday night to test rarely-used freshman pitchers on ULM (13-19), trying to find relievers capable of helping this weekend against No. 9 Ole Miss.
“I was really happy with the way a lot of guys threw tonight,” said coach Paul Mainieri, who the day before had called LSU’s ability to record the last outs in a close game his “biggest concern.”
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Two pitchers in particular stood out: right-hander Will Hellmers and lefty Javen Coleman. Hellmers hadn’t pitched in two weeks, and Coleman hadn’t appeared since March 14. They combined to throw 34 of their 42 pitches for strikes.
“I haven’t gotten too many opportunities on the weekend,” Hellmers said, “but there’s a reason for that.”
Trying to rely on a fastball that sits around 90 mph, Hellmers had completed a full inning once in his three SEC appearances. He needed to develop his secondary pitches, keeping him out of LSU’s last two weekend series.
After trying to make his breaking ball sharper, Hellmers completed his pregame bullpen and sophomore catcher Alex Milazzo told pitching coach Alan Dunn, "Man, that's it right there."
LSU had a chance to win its second consecutive series last weekend against South Carolina, but with LSU leading 2-0 in the final frame of a seven-inning game, it struggled once again to record the last three outs.
Hellmers, who’s expected to pitch at some point Saturday against Ole Miss, threw 30 pitches, 25 for strikes. As LSU called more breaking balls and changeups, Hellmers continued locating his fastball on the corners of the plate. He allowed three hits.
"He brought it from the bullpen to the game," said Milazzo, who tied his season-high with two RBIs. "That was probably the best I've seen Will as far as off speed pitches."
Once Hellmers' intentionally brief start ended, LSU used Coleman. Two months had passed since his sterling debut in which he recorded seven strikeouts in a win over Louisiana Tech opening weekend. Since then, Mainieri said Coleman hadn’t pitched with the same “conviction.” His last outing, Coleman allowed four runs over two innings.
On Tuesday night, Coleman pitched one frame. Mainieri called him the “real highlight” and cited his improved mound presence, confidence and velocity as reasons for his stat line: two strikeouts and 10 of his 13 pitches for strikes.
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“He threw the ball like he did against Louisiana Tech,” Mainieri said. “If he throws like that, he can help us this weekend.”
“He went out there and threw the crap out the ball,” Milazzo said. “I think Javen’s best when he’s doing that, and I think he can be a very good pitcher for us if he continues doing that.”
LSU kept searching for possible contributors, turning to right-hander Zachary Murray, who made his LSU debut after recovering from a bone spur, sophomore lefty Alex Brady, right-hander Michael Fowler and right-hander Theo Millas.
The bullpen carried LSU into the eighth inning, when senior Ma’Khail Hilliard completed a scoreless frame. Freshman right-hander Ty Floyd, who didn’t pitch last weekend against South Carolina, walked the bases loaded in the ninth, but he struck out the final batter to preserve the shutout.
Now 9-0 against in-state teams this season, LSU will try to carry the win into its next series, hoping this time midweek success translates to an SEC weekend.