Cartwright, Smith tapped to start midweek contests
By JAMES MORAN
Tiger Rag Associate Editor
With a red-hot lineup scoring 11.4 runs over its last five games and hitting .309 for the season, the cause of consternation for LSU baseball spectators has shifted from the young position players to a most unlikely source.
Sophomore ace Alex Lange hasn’t made it out of the sixth inning in his last two starts (both no decisions) and allowed a career-high six runs (five earned) against Fordham on Saturday night.
Two pedestrian outings and a 4.15 ERA have prompted questions, like what’s wrong with the Tigers’ All-American hurler?
Suffice to say, Paul Mainieri doesn’t share in those concerns.
“I’m not concerned at all,” Mainieri said. “That’s the problem with guys that do as well as he has done — the standard is so high. He has struck out 25 batters in 18 innings … I’m not concerned about Alex Lange. Not one iota. Everybody always wants to look for some concerns and some negatives.
“If my biggest concern is Alex Lange, I’m living a pretty good life.”
Lange would have suffered his first defeat since his junior year in high school had his teammates not stormed back with seven two-out runs in the seventh inning against the Rams. He allowed eight hits (all singles) after retiring the first six men he faced in dominant fashion with three strikeouts.
Alan Dunn, LSU’s resident pitching guru, said his big right-hander “isn’t that far off” from the dominant form most became accustomed to seeing.
“I’d be concerned if he weren’t pitching, that’s when you should ask me if I’m concerned,” Dunn said matter-of-factly. “When you look at the start the other day, what hurt him was a couple of two-out walks. His command went wayward on him and he got into some counts that were favorable for the hitters. You make some mistakes, and the other team gives scholarships too, they have some guys that can swing the bat. When you make mistakes in their counts, you end up getting hurt. That’s the game.”
Dunn is quick to point out that there’s been no discernable dip in Lange’s stuff. His fastball velocity has consistency sat at 93-94 mph and his breaking ball has the same devastating bite capable of generating swing-and-misses, as evidenced by the 14.4 K/9 rate he’s pitched to so far this season.
Instead the hiccups are a matter of command. Lange said Saturday that he felt he was ‘getting ahead of himself’ on some pitches that led to the trouble.
Dunn explained what that means in layman’s terms.
“I think the game is such where you get out of rhythm and you lose your release point,” Dunn said. “I think that certain satiations in the game, you try to do too much. You can kind of get out of yourself and out of your rhythm. That happened the other day, and then, as I said, you get in hitter’s counts and make a mistake, you’re behind the 8-ball so to speak.”
Lange, watched closely by Dunn, threw a bullpen session before practice Monday. He’ll be back on the mound as LSU hosts Ball State this weekend.
Don’t expect to see any wholesale changes.
“We stay with the course,” Dunn said. “We stay with the plan. Do you make adjustments? You make adjustments in this game from now until you quit playing. And there will be adjustments in terms of what we do in our work during the week. That’s ongoing all the time. There will be no change in our approach or philosophy.”
MIDWEEK PITCHING PLAN
Mother Nature permitting, LSU will host midweek games against Louisiana Tech and McNeese State on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively.
Alden Cartwright (2-0, 0.00 ERA) will get the start on Tuesday night against the Techsters with Riley Smith (0-0, 21.00 ERA) in line to take the ball against the Cowboys. Mainieri said Austin Bain, who started the last two midweek games, will work out of the bullpen.
The forecast will determine if any of those plans change.
“I’m going to assume we’re going to play both games for now,” Mainieri said. “Things can change. I’ll talk to (Louisiana Tech head coach) Greg Goff later today. The problem is they’re four hours away, so you’d hate for them to drive down and not play.
“If we get a forecast that it’s going to start raining at noon and rain all day, it’d be silly for them to drive down. If it’s less than 50 percent chance, we’ll probably have them come down and hope for the best.”
The forecast is for Wednesday to be worse than Tuesday. If that forecast holds, Mainieri said he may pitch Smith in relief Tuesday instead of holding him out to start a game in jeopardy.
– Bryce Jordan had two separate X-rays come back negative on his injured ankle but remained on crutches Monday, Mainieri said. He’s been ruled out for the two midweek games and is “questionable” to return this weekend. Greg Deichmann will play first base while he’s out. Mainieri also said Jordan Romero will DH Tuesday night.
– Russell Reynolds won’t pitch in either midweek game due to shoulder soreness, Mainieri said. He’s considered “doubtful” for this weekend.
– Mainieri said Collin Strall (sore shoulder) is “progressing” but there remains no timetable for him getting back on a mound.