By JAMES MORAN
Tiger Rag Associate Editor
UNO coach Blake Dean and kid brother Dakota won’t be the only former Tigers making their grand return to Alex Box Stadium on Wednesday night.
The incomparable Jack Wholestaff is coming back.
Paul Mainieri announced Tuesday that Alden Cartwright would pitch the first inning or two against the Privateers with “a bunch of guys” taking the mound after that. Expect this to be the norm for LSU’s midweek games moving forward.
“I know people don’t like to hear that,” Mainieri said, “but we tried to develop that fourth starter, and it didn’t really as we had hoped. So we moved Austin Bain back into the bullpen, where I think he’s thrown the ball better.”
“It’s a good system,” Cartwright smiled. “I like it.”
According to Mainieri, the move is about more than Bain’s ineffectiveness in his first two starts and Riley Smith’s continuing battle with shoulder soreness.
Alan Dunn and Mainieri extolled the virtues of the inning-by-inning approach last season in keeping the bullpen in a groove. Middle relief and the bridge the closer Caleb Gilbert has been a concern Mainieri has consistently harped on in recent weeks.
“It’s not just a matter of not having a fourth starter,” Mainieri said. “We need to get these guys all pitching. The more mound time we give them, the more confident they get; the more comfortable they get out there. We’re going to need them all. It’s a long year.
“It’s been real successful for us in the past, especially in the midweek games. We keep winning the games, but also for keeping the guys sharp going into the weekend.”
It’ll be a second consecutive midweek start for Cartwright, who retired the first nine men he faced in order against Louisiana Tech last Tuesday before running into trouble in the fourth.
He’ll face a resurgent Privateers lineup that comes into the Box hitting at an impressive .328 clip. In Blake Dean’s first year at the helm, UNO is within one victory of matching its entire 2015 total.
And Dakota, who has remained close with Cartwright since the two were freshmen-year teammates, comes in second on the team in batting average (.414) with a club-high 16 RBI.
“My job is to go out there and get us off to a good start,” Cartwright said. “Get our hitters a good chance to score and then hand it off to the next guy. Let them finish the game.”
Lochridge remains out with stiff back
Freshman third baseman O’Neal Lochridge will undergo an MRI Wednesday morning and will miss his third consecutive game with a stiff back, Mainieri said.
Lochridge began feeling the tightness last week but tried to play through it. He then aggravated it Friday night and came to the park Saturday too stiff to play.
“Can’t get loose, really,” Lochridge said of the injury. “I can deal with it to a certain point, and then I feel like it’s physically restricting me on my swing. So I’d rather be 100 percent and ready for later play than play on it while it’s constantly bothering me.”
The treatment and rehab work are a combination of heat and extra stretching in an attempt to get loose, as well as core work and hip flexibility aimed at taking the stress off the lower back.
Lochridge said he dealt with a similar injury last year as a senior at St. Thomas More. While this one is a bit worse, Lochridge insists he’s too far from a return to the lineup.
“I did the same thing, just stretching until I was loose enough to play,” Lochridge said. “Then once I stayed on top of it, I was fine. It was a little worse Friday, so it’s gradually getting better.”
Mainieri wasn’t sure if Chris Reid or Trey Dawson would play third base against UNO, saying he’d make a decision after watching both work at the hot corner during Tuesday’s practice. Reid started both Saturday and Sunday’s games against Ball State.
Bryce Jordan “ready” to return to the field
With UNO expected to start freshman soft-tossing left-hander Bryan Warzec (0-0, 7.74), Mainieri was hopeful that Bryce Jordan would be ready to start at first base. Jordan spent the weekend relegating to being the DH due to an ankle injury.
Should Jordan to able to manage first base, that’d free up the DH spot for Mainieri to start Jordan Romero against the lefty. It would afford him toe flexibility to avoid potentially having to start a lineup with four lefty-swingers (Reid, Greg Deichmann (1B) and lineup staples Jake Fraley and Antoine Duplantis) against the southpaw.
Jordan, who was working at first base before meeting with reporters, declared the ankle healed and himself ready to return.
“After probably a week of therapy, I’m back and I’m ready to go,” Jordan said. “It’s feeling a lot better. I feel like I’m right back where I left off.”