LSU will need all "flamethrowers" on deck for Florida State super regional
LSU catcher Saul Garza has asserted himself as the everyday catcher for LSU and thus has a front row seat to every fastball, changeup and breaking ball on the roster.
So how does the sophomore spend his nights after a game?
“Icing my hand,” Garza said. “We have quite a few flamethrowers and all of them throw two seamers that are running six inches so it’s pretty crazy that they’re all on the same staff.”
Six weeks ago the pitching staff was severely depleted, missing starters Cole Henry and Landon Marceaux. It was a long trek back for Henry and Marceaux, who leaned on one another throughout the struggles and rehabs to shake off their respective arm soreness.
“A lot of late nights in the dorm just talking and feeling out each other on how we thought our seasons were going,” Henry said. “The end goal was to make it here and right now we both feel great and just want to do what we do and win a super regional.”
With the successful return of their freshman phenoms, coach Paul Mainieri thinks the LSU bullpen has reaped the rewards, sending guys like Zack Hess, Ma’Khail Hilliard and Devin Fontenot back to reserve roles after being asked to start in Henry and Marceaux’s absence.
“This is probably the deepest bullpen I can ever remember having at LSU,” Mainieri said. “Obviously moving Zack into that role strengthened that area of our team immensely. Peterson, Fontenot, Beck and all those guys I think are doing a tremendous job. If we can get to that point in the game, I just feel good about our chances to win.”
Junior pitcher Zack Hess echoed his coaches’ words, saying all the injuries may have been a “blessing in disguise,” allowing the opportunity for other pitchers to step up and gain valuable reps and experience.
“If you think about it, Cole, Landon were out for a little bit but also got some good rest so it’s not like they’re fatigued at the moment,” Hess said. “Those guys are fresh and a lot of other guys got a good amount of innings under them when Cole and Landon weren’t playing.”
One recent outing that stands out for the LSU bullpen came just a week ago in the regional, when the Tigers trailed 4-3 after five innings and proceeded to get four scoreless innings from Matthew Beck, Trent Vietmeier and Devin Fontenot in route to a 6-4 win over Southern Miss.
The win was a culmination of the successful outings the bullpen had endured dating back to the SEC tournament when the starters began to return to the lineup.
LSU will go with Henry on Saturday afternoon, Marceaux on Sunday and Eric Walker if necessary on Monday for a ticket to Omaha. Hess has some experience facing Florida State, having a few of his many breakout performances against the Seminoles in Omaha in 2017.
The junior pitcher said the Tigers can expect a similar lineup to the one he faced in 2017 as many of those players are still on the roster in 2019.
“It’s a lot of walks and a lot of strikeouts with their lineup,” Hess said. “Their approach historically has been to try and get the guys in the top of the order on base and be patient. So I think the big thing with them is be aggressive in the zone and we have to get ahead in our counts and put them away when we can.”
Mainieri said the decision to go with Henry and Marceaux in games one and two was simply the fact that they’ve been the best two pitchers on the team over the last few weeks.
“I have all the confidence in the world in Cole Henry and Landon Marceaux,” Mainieri said. “It’s probably been the first time we’ve started two freshman in a super regional since I’ve been here. They’re not only our future but our present so that’s why we’re giving them the ball.”
With this being the last three games in Alex Box Stadium for guys like Hess, Antoine Duplantis, Zach Watson and Josh Smith, the pressure to make the last few count could be viewed as overwhelming.
That’s not the case for Duplantis, who is solely focused on doing everything he can to help extend the Tiger season for what would be his second trip to Omaha.
“It’s hard to think about when you’re playing,” Duplantis said. “You’re trying to compete, trying to win but at the same time I’m going to savor it and just try to live in the moment. It’ll be more of a thing where I look back in a few years and just think about how cool that last weekend was at Alex Box Stadium but right now I’m focused on winning and keeping our season alive.”
“Our focus is wanting to send those guys out with a real great experience here,” Mainieri said. “I hope the fans are going to be a big part of that.”