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November 12, 2012

Finding answers

LSU coach Paul Mainieri had some definite questions to answer during the six weeks of fall baseball practice.

1. Who will replace Austin Nola and Tyler Hanover on the left side of the infield?

2. Who will be the starting center fielder?

3. Who will take over for ace Kevin Gausman and closer Nick Goody?

According to Mainieri, one of those three issues was resolved during fall practice. Mainieri knows how the Tigers will line up on the left side of the infield. He is not sure about the center fielder and the look of his pitching staff.

However, Mainieri does feel that LSU is in good shape to find solutions to these problems before the season-opener against Maryland in February.

"Fall practice was really good for a lot of reasons," Mainieri said. "Most of my concerns were answered. I feel great about the infield. The center field/right field situation is not resolved, but all four players competing played well. The pitching situation is not resolved, but I didn't expect it to be."

The left side of the infield will be manned by two newcomers - freshman Alex Bregman at shortstop and junior college transfer Christian Ibarra at third base. Jacoby Jones will be the second baseman and Mason Katz will return to first base.

"The infield is set now," Mainieri said. "It was a process which we let play out. We gave Katz and (Tyler) Moore an extended look at third base. We lined up three guys (Bregman, Jones and Ibarra) at shortstop. Alex Bregman turned out to be our best option at shortstop.

"We put Ibarra at third once we knew Bregman was going to be our shortstop. Losing Nola and Hanover, we won't be quite as good defensively in the infield. Two new guys will probably make some errors early in the year. We'll be better offensively with Bregman."

Mainieri was not able to identify the starting center fielder, but not for a lack of talent. All four candidates - freshmen Mark Laird and Andrew Stevenson, junior college transfer Sean McMullen and Chris Sciambra - had productive fall practice sessions.

"No one emerged ahead of the other three outfielders," Mainieri said. "I started to feel that Laird was going to be the guy, but then Stevenson came along well. Sciambra probably had the most consistent fall. Sean McMullen has the highest ceiling, but he didn't put it quite together in the fall."

Raph Rhymes will start in left field. McMullen is a candidate for the starting job in right field. The others - Laird, Stevenson and Sciambra - could start in either center field or right field. Whoever does not start in the outfield will be a candidate for designated hitter along with Moore and Alex Edward.

"All four of these guys are left-handed hitters and all four can run," Mainieri said. "We will definitely be better defensively in the outfield. We'll be able to run down some balls."

During fall practice, no pitcher was allowed to work more than three innings. Therefore, Mainieri was sure that the weekend rotation and the closer's role would not be determined until practice in February. A couple of issues regarding the pitching staff are known.

Aaron Nola and Ryan Eades will be at the top of the rotation, although it has not been decided which individual will be the Friday starter. Chris Cotton and Nick Rumbelow will be at the back of the bullpen, although there may not be one set pitcher as the closer this season.

"Eades had a great fall," Mainieri said. "His command was much better. He threw about 14 innings with 16 strikeouts and no walks. He seems very determined. Then, I can't say enough positive things about Aaron.

"Cotton and Rumbelow are our two best options at the end of the game. We are better off with Cotton in the bullpen. We shut down Rumbelow after two outings. He had made 20 appearances in the Cape Cod League. He needed a blow. We do have depth in the bullpen and that's comforting for me."

According to Mainieri, no one stood out in the competition to be the No. 3 starter. The four candidates are senior Brent Bonvillain, junior Kurt McCune, sophomore Cody Glenn and freshman Russell Reynolds. Joey Bourgeois and Kevin Berry will pitch exclusively out of the bullpen.

"Bonvillain and Glenn were pretty good for most of the fall," Mainieri said. "Of the freshmen, Russell Reynolds showed the most advanced stuff. McCune was great until his last outing when he got hit hard. Everything is wide open except for the top two spots and Cotton and Rumbelow at the end."

Ty Ross will be the No. 1 catcher for the third consecutive season. Moore and freshman Chris Chinea are competing to be Ross' backup.


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