LSU pitcher Austin Bain, now a sophomore, had shoulder surgery and will miss fall practice, while left-hander Jake Latz has showed “encouraging” signs to returning, coach Paul Mainieri said Thursday.
In introducing his 2015 signing class, Mainieri announced the news on his pair of significant hurlers. Bain, a Dutchtown graduate, started six games last season and finished with a 3.95 ERA. He was expected to compete for a starting spot next season.
“We don’t think it’s serious,” Mainieri said of Bain’s injury.
Bain has battled a sore arm since his high school days and had a bone spur in his shoulder, the coach said. Mainieri said he had the same surgery as Troy Whitty and Hunter Newman. Both have returned to pitching and are “pain-free,” Mainieri said.
“Bain was inconsistent (last season),” the coach said. “Maybe his inconsistency was because of that need for surgery. We didn’t realize that at that time.”
Latz, one of the Tigers’ most highly rated 2014 signees, missed last season with a stress reaction in his elbow. His rehabilitation, now in its fifth month, is winding down.
Latz, who turned down $900,000 in the 2014 Major League Baseball draft, threw a 75-pitch simulated game recently and has joined a Chicago-area summer league. He will throw in his first game Friday, Mainieri said. Mainieri watched Latz throw in the simulated game and called it “encouraging.” Latz’s velocity dropped off significantly after the first inning, but his curveball and changeup were solid, Mainieri said.
Coaches are hoping Latz will be available for fall practice and can compete for a weekend starting spot in the spring.
Fall practice begins Sept. 27.
The Tigers must replace eight of nine starters from last year’s team. Overwhelming? Not so, Mainieri said Thursday.
“I look at it as a challenge,” he said. “I’m excited about it.”
Mainieri outlined some of LSU’s fall position battles, including the fight for shortstop, third base and second base. The coach plans to try four players at shortstop early during fall individual drills, before team practice begins. The four include signees Trey Dawson, Cole Freeman and O’Neal Lochridge, and junior Kramer Robertson.
“We’re going to look at them all at shortstop. When we decipher who we think the best two shortstops are, we’ll leave those two guys there and we’ll move the other guys to second and third base respectively,” the coach said.
Greg Deichmann, former Brother Martin standout and now an LSU sophomore, will also be competing at third base.
At first base, Mainieri mentioned Bryce Jordan, a sophomore and reserve player in 2015, and signees Bryce Adams and Brody Wofford.
The coach will “look at” left fielder Jake Fraley, the only returning starter, at center field, he said. Mainieri described the catcher competition as a “two-horse race” between Michael Papierski and signee Jordan Romero, a Catholic High grad from LSU-Eunice.
Developing a third starter
Coaches are “committed” to developing a No. 3 and possibly a No. 4 starting pitcher this season, Mainieri said.
The Tigers never found a third starter last season, using a hodgepodge of arms during Game 3s of series and during midweek games. That’ll change in 2016, the coach said.
“We have got to develop a third starter this year,” Mainieri said. “It’s been proven now in the postseason when you face teams of the caliber that you face in regionals or (College) World Series, it’s really a tough way to win a game. All it takes is one or two pitchers to have a bad inning.”
Sophomores Jake Godfrey, Doug Norman and Bain are expected to lead the list of players competing for starting gigs. Each spent a brief time as a starting pitcher last season before being relegated to the bullpen. All three hurlers, including Godfrey, will be considered for a starting job, the coach said.
LSU’s signing class includes five pitchers, highlighted by big right-hander Cole McKay from Texas and Akron transfer John Valek, who is immediately eligible.
“Somebody’s going to develop over the course of this fall and early spring and hopefully we’re going to have a good three, four man rotation and we’ll use the other guys in specific roles,” Mainieri said.
Top of the class
Mainieri called signee Cody Ducote the “best pure hitter” in the class. Ducote is serving only as a designated hitter this summer while resting a sore shoulder, Mainieri said.
The coach is unsure if Ducote’s arm will recover for him to compete for the two open outfield positions. Sophomore Beau Jordan and a pair of signees from Lafayette — Brennan Breaux and Antoine Duplantis — are expected to battle in the outfield.
‘Not enjoying LSU’
Grayson Byrd delivered a message to Mainieri when he told the coach he would be transferring: I’m not having fun.
“He said, ‘Coach, I’m just not enjoying being at LSU. I’m just not having fun,’” Mainieri said.
The coach announced earlier this week that Byrd and Danny Zardon were transferring from the program. Byrd’s transfer surprised Mainieri. He’s the son of Paul Byrd, the former star LSU and major league pitcher, and he was expected to compete for a starting infield spot this fall.