OMAHA, Neb . — Mythic figures can have a tangible impression on the real world.
The Most Interesting Man in the World.
No one I know has ever laid eyes on this Mr. Wholestaff, though he does have a Twitter account. And there’s a rumor he was spotted around midnight on the sand volleyball court at Barrett’s Barleycorn.
If you had to draw a composite sketch of the lad, it would probably be something like this:
About 6-feet tall. About 20 years old. Throws right- and left-handed. Preferred hairstyle: the flow, though hair color is hard to describe because he’s always wearing a purple LSU baseball cap.
And if you call him Hunter, you’ll be right nearly 20 percent of the time.
It is upon Jack Wholestaff’s combined 22 shoulders that so much of the Tigers’ hopes for survival in the College World Series rest as they try to fight their way through the losers’ bracket.
Jack Wholestaff will start Thursday night against TCU in the person of Zac Person, though who and how many Tigers he will embody before the night is through, no one can say.
Person is as good a place to begin for LSU as any. He hasn’t pitched much this year, just 29.2 innings spread thinly across 30 appearances. But he’s a senior and a lefty, thus about as well equipped as anyone the Tigers have not named Alex Lange (who won Tuesday against Cal State Fullerton) or Jared Poché (who lost to TCU on Sunday but would start Friday if the Tigers are still breathing) to get the ball.
He could last for several innings. Or the Tigers, who hardly had to stir the dust in their bullpen Tuesday as Lange heaved a complete game six-hitter at the Titans, could use an arm an inning.
It’s a factor that adds an unsettled air to Thursday’s proceedings, something that sits about as well with LSU coach Paul Mainieri as not making it to Omaha at all.
“We’ll piece it together,” Mainieri said. “You do what you have to do.”
It didn’t have to be this way.
LSU could be throwing Jake Latz on Thursday. But the most highly touted pitcher of the Tigers’ celebrated freshman class, even more lauded than Lange, suffered an elbow injury and never launched his first fastball this season.
LSU could be throwing Mac Marshall on Thursday, too. But the former highly regarded prospect snuck out of town on the Tigers after enrolling in school in last fall, at the time putting “Omaha 2015 here we go!” on his Twitter page. He transferred to Chipola (Florida) College for a year so he could be eligible for this year’s draft, and he was picked in the fourth round by the San Francisco Giants.
Mainieri wouldn’t divulge how much of a scholarship he gave each player, saying only “the investment was considerable.” He said the biggest scholarship percentage for any player on this year’s team is about 70 percent. One can assume it’s Lange, because he’s from Missouri and ineligible for TOPS. And it’s easy to assume that Latz and Marshall were in the same ballpark.
While it’s hoped Latz will earn his scholarship in 2016, LSU’s scholarship slice spent on Marshall might as well have been tossed in the Mississippi. Because he left after the fall semester began, instead of doing what was right by LSU and never coming in the first place, it was too late to transfer his scholarship funds to another recruit. So figure the Tigers are about 11 scholarships this season instead of the allowed 11.7.
Mainieri’s fire over that little episode has only recently cooled to ashes, but he’s determined not to live in the world of what-might-have beens.
“You play with the guys you have and make the most of it,” Mainieri said.
If there’s a plus to the Wholestaff approach compared to the one-armed bandit tactic, it’s that a constant assembly line of pitchers — lefties, righties, side-armers, blazing speed and offspeed junk — can work on a hitter’s last nerve.
“As hitters, you’re trained to forget that,” Tigers left fielder Jake Fraley said. “But it definitely makes things more difficult. When a pitcher goes nine innings like Alex did, you tend to pick up on their different tendencies.”
To that end, maybe this Wholestaff thing will pay winning dividends for LSU.
When you have no other viable options, you’re forced to believe it’s the best one.
Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.