ENGSTER: Aaron Nola faces first big test of his career


By JIM ENGSTER | President, Tiger Rag Magazine

Paul Mainieri has called Aaron Nola “the best player I have ever coached.” Nola is now a professional veteran at 23 and three years removed from his LSU heroics. His college days produced a 30-6 record with 349 strikeouts in a memorable tour through TigerTown.

For the first time in his short career, Nola, the crown jewel of the Philadelphia Phillies organization, has something to prove. The right-hander from Baton Rouge faltered terribly in the second half of last season and was forced to rest the last two months of the season because of elbow issues. Tommy John surgery was ruled out, and Nola hopes his 217 days on the sidelines will allow him to recover to his pre-injury form.

Batters hit .202 vs. Nola in April and May last year and soared to .312 in June and July when it was revealed that the Phillies young ace was pitching hurt. Despite his struggles in 2016, Nola struck out 121 batters in 111 innings, posting a 6-9 record and 4.78 earned run average.

In his first spring training appearance of 2017, Nola allowed no runs in two innings and reached 94 miles per hour on two of his 30 pitches. The 6-foot-2, 195-pounder was thought to be more like Greg Maddux than Roger Clemens when the Phillies selected seventh in the first round of the 2014 draft. In truth, Nola is somewhere between the deadly accurate Maddux, who won 355 MLB games, and ‘The Rocket,” who posted 354 victories in the Big Show.

Nola reached the majors after 13 months in the minors and was 6-3 in 13 impressive starts to close the 2015 season with Philadelphia. This is the crucial year in Nola’s career with him likely to either rebound to his 2015 form or require surgery that could sideline him until 2019.

Still a young man, Nola is poised to become the most successful Major League pitcher in LSU history. That distinction currently belongs to a man unknown to most Tiger fans: William Crutcher “Big Bill” Lee, a hard throwing right-hander from Plaquemine. The 6-foot-3 Lee complied a 169-157 record with a 3.54 ERA from 1934-1947 with the Cubs, Phillies and Braves. His best season was in 1938 when he went 22-9 with nine shutouts for the Cubs.

Lee reigns as the all-time leader for strikeouts and victories among LSU Major League hurlers. The numbers are rather pedestrian, and Nola, who is 12-11 with 189 strikeouts in 33 MLB starts, is a good bet to surpass him.

Here are the top five LSU MLB pitchers based on wins and strikeouts.

[table] Pitcher, Wins, KOs

Bill Lee, 169, 998

Paul Byrd, 109, 923

Ben McDonald, 78, 894

Jason Vargas, 67, 805

Mark Guthrie, 51, 778
[/table]

Aaron Nola should become the all-time Major League LSU strikeout king before he turns 28, but he will have a ways to go to catch the career leader on the K-chart. Nolan Ryan retired with 5,714 strikeouts in a 27-year big league tenure.

Jones to leave LSU with dignity

Johnny Jones is probably logging his final week as LSU basketball coach. With a 2-16 conference record and 15-game losing streak this season, “The Bullet” bookended his best and worst years as a Tiger. As a freshman guard in 1980-81, Jones was part the Dale Brown team that won 26 straight games and finished 17-1 in the SEC.

Jones disappointed in his fifth year at the helm, but on the whole, his first five years were superior to his predecessors.

[table]LSU Coach,First 5 Years,SEC Record,Percent

Johnny Jones,2012-2017,42-48,.467

Trent Johnson,2008-2012 (only 4 yrs.),25-39,.391

John Brady,1997-2002,26-54,.325

Dale Brown,1972-1977,34-56,.378

Press Maravich,1966-71,39-51,.433

Jay McCreary,1957-62,21-49,.300 [/table]

When the Assembly Center was showcased in 1971, it was thought LSU could compete with any basketball program in the land, and from 1978 to 1993, the Tigers did just that under Dale Brown.

The truth is that every LSU coach has departed under less than stellar conditions since the arena was opened, so Jones is not alone. The man from DeRidder will remain an LSU ambassador and has done nothing to embarrass himself or his alma mater. This is not the last stop for Jones on the coaching trail, and LSU should be thankful that he ran a program with integrity and posted the best first five year record of any Tiger coach in modern time.

LSU sporting winners and losers at the bank

Documents obtained by “The Advocate” show that LSU football registered a profit of more than $55 million in the 2015-16 academic year. Men’s basketball was second with a profit of $2.35 million, and women’s basketball was dead last with a deficit of $3.9 million. Baseball was the only other sport to be in the black. The Bengal batsmen recorded a $1.5 million profit.

Fournette’s numbers revealing at NFL Scouting Combine

Leonard Fournette was listed at 6-foot and 240 pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine, meaning he apparently lost height and gained weight in his three years in Baton Rouge. Fournette ran the 40-yard dash in 4.51 seconds, and declined for now to participate in the weightlifting competition. Oklahoma running back Semaje Perrine wowed scouts with 30 reps of 225 pounds in the bench press, more than most of the offensive linemen at the Combine.

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