LSU baseball Notebook: Opening weekend, pitching rotations and lineups
Opening weekend in baseball is a tradition like no other and after losing the opening series to Notre Dame last season, LSU will go back to Military Appreciation weekend and face ULM, Army and Air Force.
LSU could have been swept by the Irish last season if not for a seven run comeback in the sixth and eighth innings of game one, capped off by a three run homerun by Josh Smith. With expectations back to Omaha or bust, coach Paul Mainieri says he’s feeling as confident as he’s been entering a season since he took over the Tiger program in 2007.
With a retooled pitching staff and the return of veterans like Antoine Duplantis, Smith and Zach Watson, Mainieri’s confidence feels justified as the Tigers are ranked either No. 1 or No. 2 in all pre-season polls.
The Tigers will take on ULM at 6 p.m. Friday, Army on Saturday at 2 p.m. and Air Force on Sunday 3 p.m. to close out the weekend.
It’s been no secret that junior Zack Hess would retain his role as the Friday starter for the second consecutive season but Mainieri threw a curveball at reporters by announcing that three freshmen will start on the mound in games two, three and four.
Following Hess’ start on Friday against ULM, Mainieri will go with Landon Marceaux on Saturday, Jaden Hill on Sunday and Cole Henry on Tuesday against Southeastern. Noticeably, sophomore Eric Walker is missing from the rotation but that’s not due to injury as Walker will start on Wednesday against Northwestern State, and there’s a method to Mainieri’s madness.
Due to Walker’s lack of reps on the mound and the challenge that Northwestern State will present on Wednesday were among the reasons Mainieri said Walker will make his debut on Wednesday. The plan for the next two weeks is to pitch Walker in the midweek games as he gains more reps but Mainieri said he won’t throw more than three innings.
In addition to Walker, Hess has been dealing with a groin injury himself and has been behind schedule so he won’t go more than four innings on Friday night. Mainieri said that because Marceaux, Hill and Henry have been healthy all Spring, they’ve been able to get the extra work and have impressed the coaching staff with their progress.
Mainieri also released the batting order this weekend, subject to change of course and painting a clearer picture on some of the positions that had been up for grabs in Spring practice. The order is as follows:
Josh Smith (SS)
Brandt Broussard (2B)
Antoine Duplantis (RF)
Daniel Cabrera (LF)
Zach Watson (CF)
Saul Garza (DH)
Drew Bianco (1B)
Brock Mathis (C)
Hal Hughes (3B)
Among the position battles up for grabs, Mainieri decided to start with freshman Drew Bianco, who had been battling it out with three other freshmen for the nod. Mainieri did note that freshman Cade Beloso would start at first on Saturday and the team would play it by year at that first base spot.
Sophomore transfer Brock Mathis will start behind the plate with fellow transfer Saul Garza still recuperating from knee surgery and hasn’t been cleared for catching duties. While Garza won’t be at catcher, the injury won’t keep him from swinging the bat as he’ll bat DH for the foreseeable future.
Garza has impressed with strength behind the plate, breaking the new scoreboard a few times already and should be considered one of the Tigers power hitters this season.
Second baseman Brandt Broussard will bat in the two hole this weekend, which may come as a bit of a surprise. Broussard struggled mightily the tail end of last season, but before breaking his finger right before conference play, Broussard was batting over .400 for the Tigers and Mainieri said he’s had one of the best Spring performances at the plate.