Injuries have nagged the LSU baseball program going all the way back to the 2017 College World Series, but there’s something of a light at the end of a tunnel with the approaching New Year.
Several players who either sat out or were limited this fall have progressed in the last month or so, LSU coach Paul Mainieri told Tiger Rag on Wednesday.
“Many of the guys that were hurt in the fall, the progress has been really good,” Mainieri said. “I feel better about where those guys are. Very much so.”
Arguably the biggest development is that sophomore right-hander Ma’Khail Hilliard started throwing six weeks ago and should be ready once spring rolls around, Mainieri said. Hilliard missed the NCAA Tournament due to shoulder soreness and didn’t throw at all this fall.
“He’s got no pain and he’s throwing long toss,” Mainieri said. “I expect Hilliard will be raring and ready to go.”
The news is less promising for fellow sophomore AJ Labas, who has been dealing with a similar ailment. He hasn’t resumed throwing to this point and has a ways to go before he could get back on a mound.
“The situation is still a little bit baffling,” Mainieri said. “They were kind of diagnosed with the same thing — tightness in the back of their shoulder — but yet Hilliard is advanced now and Labas still has a ways to go.”
Pitchers Caleb Gilbert (offseason shoulder surgery), Matt Beck (elbow soreness) and Cole Henry (stress reaction in upper arm) have all thrown off flat ground since the end of the fall practice season.
None have gotten on a mound yet, but Mainieri was encouraged by each hurler’s progress after sitting out fall ball to focus on rehab and conditioning.
“I saw it with my own eyes,” Mainieri said. “Even if they haven’t gotten on a mound yet, they’re throwing the ball 120 feet effortlessly and pain-free. I feel much more confident that they’re all going to be ready to go.”
Catcher Saul Garza underwent knee surgery this fall to repair a torn meniscus, as previously reported. The update here is that Mainieri projects he could be ready to hit once the season starts, but the coach all but ruled out the idea of him being ready to catch by February.
“I think Garza is going to be ready to hit by the start of the season, but I don’t think he’ll be able to catch,” Mainieri said. “We have to be real conservative, so I don’t think he’ll even get into a catching stance until March. Probably won’t be ready to catch in a game until the second SEC series.”
That would leave LSU with Brock Mathis, CJ Willis (who has his own shoulder injury to work back from) and walk-on Braden Doughty.
To address the lack of depth behind the plate, LSU sent freshman infielder Drew Bianco home with catching gear to get some work in on the side during winter break.
Mainieri joked that perhaps Bianco could get some assistance from his father, Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco, who once upon a time was a catcher at LSU.
The rookie got some work at the position this fall once injuries hit, but Mainieri said they’ll take a more thorough look at him behind the plate this spring.
“Possibly (Bianco could catch games this season), but it depends what we see when he comes back,” Mainieri said. “