Kentucky’s baseball history, which includes just one SEC championship and 21 NCAA tournament appearances while never advancing to a Super Regional, is littered with mediocrity.
Annual SEC win-loss records of 7-23 or 8-22 are commonplace for UK.
But for LSU, desperate for SEC wins, traveling to Lexington this weekend for a three-game series against the Wildcats (19-7, 5-4) starting Friday at 5:30 p.m. CT is like hitting the road to take on the New York Yankees.
The Tigers (18-11, 1-8) are doing so with a starting pitching rotation jolted by the loss of junior Jaden Hill, lost for the season and presumably for the rest of his college career after sustaining a torn UCL in his throwing arm in last Saturday’s home loss to No. 1 Vanderbilt.
LSU coach Paul Mainieri said he’s moving Sunday’s game 3 starter AJ Labas (1-0, 3.26 ERA, 38.2 innings pitched, 40 strikeouts, 7 walks) to Hill’s Saturday game 2 slot.
Who takes Labas’ place as the Sunday starter?
Mainieri said he’ll pick from a freshman trio Garrett Edwards, Blake Money and Will Helmers.
“I don’t want to name a starter and hold that person back if we have a chance to win a game earlier in the series because that person might be somebody we use to help us win the game,” Mainieri said. “I hate to use a guy inferior to one of those three guys if we held them back strictly for Sunday.
“After the first two games, we’ll see who’s available and start him on Sunday. We’ve done that for many years.”
Hellmers (5-1, 3.46 ERA, 29 strikeouts/9 walks) has more starts (four) combined than Edwards (1-2, 2 saves, 2.93 ERA, 17 strikeouts/6 walks) and Money (1-0, 4.91 ERA, 19 strikeouts, 6 walks).
Money had two solid relief efforts last week, working a total of 6.2 innings and allowing three runs on five hits with one walk and six strikeouts. He pitched a career-high 4.2 innings last Friday vs. Vanderbilt, limiting the Commodores to three runs on five hits with one walk and four strikeouts.
LSU’s starting pitching from Landon Marceaux (2-3, 2.01 ERA, 40.1 innings pitched, 47 strikeouts, 11 walks) and Labas has been good enough to win games.
But LSU’s offense against SEC pitching has been missing in action.
In conference games only after losing 2 of 3 to then-No. 2 Mississippi State and getting swept by then-No. 11 Alabama and top ranked Vanderbilt, LSU is last in the league in batting average (.201), runs (27), runs batted in (26), hits (59) and total plate appearances (333).
Also, LSU batters lead the league in being struck out 99 and the Tigers are tied for first in grounding into double plays (7).
Kentucky is coming off a Tuesday night win over No. 5 Louisville. Also, the Wildcats have won two of their first SEC series, including a sweep at Auburn. Last week, UK got swept at Mississippi State but lost games 2 and 3 by one run each.
UK is No. 3 in the SEC in batting average (.288) and its pitching staff is No. 4 in the league with a 3.24 ERA.
Game 1, Friday 5:30 p.m. (SEC Network +)
LSU – Jr. RH Landon Marceaux (2-3, 2.01 ERA, 40.1 IP, 11 BB, 47 SO)
UK – So. RH Cole Stupp (3-1, 1.91 ERA, 37.2 IP, 5 BB, 36 SO)
Game 2, Saturday 1 p.m. (SEC Network, SEC Network +)
LSU – Jr. RH AJ Labas (1-0, 3.26 ERA, 38.2 IP, 7 BB, 40 SO)
UK – Fr. RH Ryan Hagenow (1-1, 2.11 ERA, 21.1 IP, 11 BB, 25 SO)
Game 3, Sunday 12 p.m. CT (SEC Network +)
LSU – TBA
UK – So. RH Zack Lee (2-2, 4.18 ERA, 28.0 IP, 7 BB, 24 SO)