The numbers glowed across the scoreboard inside Alex Box Stadium on Wednesday night, columns of zeros that showed the talent LSU might have in its pitching staff next season.
During Game 1 of the Purple-Gold World Series, a pair of intrasquad scrimmages marking the end of fall practice, LSU’s pitchers held their offensive teammates to one run on four hits. The only run scored after an error and a wild pitch.
LSU played six innings, and danger exists in over-analyzing the results when the season doesn’t begin for three months. But coach Paul Mainieri thought the pitching staff reflected how it has performed throughout fall practice, an encouraging sign for LSU next year.
“You'd rather know you can stop another team,” Mainieri said. “I've seen our team hit really well. I'm not overly worried about hitting. I think our pitching looked really good tonight.”
LSU hit some balls hard — freshman Mitchell Sanford robbed one on a diving catch in left field — but the pitching stood out. Every pitcher threw two innings. Redshirt junior Eric Walker did not allow a hit. Redshirt sophomore AJ Labas did not allow a run. Relievers Ma’Khail Hillaird, Trent Vietmeier and Aaron George combined for six scoreless frames and seven strikeouts.
The only pitcher who allowed a run was freshman left-hander Jacob Hasty. In the fourth inning, Hasty gave up a leadoff single to freshman catcher Alex Milazzo. Hasty induced a potential double play, but his throw scooted into center field. Milazzo reached third base, then he scored on a wild pitch. Hasty also struck out three batters.
“If you gave me a choice tonight, if I would have seen a 10-9 game or a 1-0 game, I'd rather have a 1-0 game,” Mainieri said, “because it shows your pitching can be very competitive.”
LSU’s pitchers also threw well in two exhibition games earlier this fall. The Tigers gave up three runs against UNO and three runs to Nicholls, winning both games by a combined score of 18-6.
This time last year, LSU shut down its pitching staff because of injuries. The injuries extended into the season, hampering LSU throughout the spring. The Tigers struggled to find a consistent starting rotation, and their season ended short of the College World Series.
Instead of injuries riddling the pitching staff this fall, the group has gotten healthier. Labas, who missed last season following shoulder surgery, may contend for a spot in the rotation. Sophomore Jaden Hill, who has not pitched in a game-like setting since February, will throw an inning during Game 2 of the series Friday night, the final day of fall practice. Redshirt sophomore Nick Storz, who has pitched twice during his career because of injuries, threw a bullpen Wednesday.
Two months separate the team from preseason practice, but Mainieri has started to feel encouraged by the pitching staff. The group may carry LSU next season. On Wednesday night, it provided another glimpse of its potential.
“It's a good mix of veterans and younger guys, every time they get the ball just competing,” Walker said. “I think we got a lot of talent.”