When LSU changed its pitching rotation for the final series of the regular season, it considered the upcoming Southeastern Conference tournament.
LSU hosts Auburn on Thursday, and the tournament begins three days after the series finale.
At least two wins against Auburn, which has the No. 20 RPI, can bolster LSU’s argument for hosting an NCAA regional, so coach Paul Mainieri had to balance immediate needs with future games.
Redshirt sophomore Eric Walker will start on Thursday. Freshman Landon Marceaux will pitch Friday. Saturday’s starter has not been determined as LSU waits to see who’s available.
“You're only concerned with the most immediate task,” Mainieri said, “I think (Walker) gives us the best chance to go out there on the opening night and give us success.”
Walker began the season starting mid-week games and coming out of the bullpen as he regained form following Tommy John surgery. Then he regained his spot in the weekend rotation.
After resting in the low-mid 80s a few months ago, Walker's velocity has returned to 90 mph, which is where it sat his freshman year. In terms of his health, Walker has felt normal again for more than a month.
Thursday night will mark the first time in Walker's career he has started the opening game of a series. Walker, who has a 5.21 ERA, has tried to find consistency this season.
“I haven’t made my pitches,” Walker said. “I don’t feel like it’s a thing where my stuff hasn’t been as good.”
As LSU changed the rotation — removing Ma’Khaill Hilliard after he gave up 14 runs over his past three starts — the short amount of time between the regular season and the postseason forced LSU to think about the tournament.
LSU’s postseason seeding is undetermined, but it will likely play a single-elimination game next Tuesday. (Mainieri has not announced who would start.) If LSU wins its first game, it will have to play one of the top-four teams in the conference.
By moving up Walker and Marceaux — they pitched the final two games of the past three series — Mainieri made them available for potential games next Wednesday and Thursday, respectively.
But first LSU has to play Auburn.
“Each game means the same,” Walker said. “Our TBA guy on Saturday means just as much as me and Landon do. I think this will be a good weekend to give us some confidence going forward into the SEC tournament.”