Lefty draws second consecutive Opening Night assignment
By JAMES MORAN
Tiger Rag Associate Editor
Paul Mainieri will hand the ball to his trusted veteran on Opening Night.
Jared Poche’ will start next Friday’s season-opener against Cincinnati, Mainieri told Tiger Rag after a scrimmage Friday evening. The junior left-hander will be followed by All-American Alex Lange on Saturday with senior southpaw John Valek starting Sunday’s series finale.
“It’s his third year, probably going to be his last year at LSU,” Mainieri began. “Number one, he’s earned and deserves that honor of starting on opening night. I think he’s an outstanding pitcher that’s a proven winner. We’re going to need him to win a lot of games this year to go where we want to go.”
The honor wasn’t lost on the crafty southpaw, who spoke to a small collection of reporters after tossing five scoreless innings in his final tune-up of the spring.
“Anytime you get that honor, to open up the season for such a great franchise like this, it’s definitely an honor for me,” Poche’ said. “I’m looking forward to it and hope for the best.”
It’ll be Poche’s second consecutive opening night assignment for the Tigers and fifth or sixth dating back to his days at Lutcher High. The veteran knows nerves won’t be an issue, but taking the mound in front of 13,000 never fails to provide some extra juice.
“I wasn’t really nervous last years,” Poche’ said. “That’s not really me as far as when I’m playing baseball. I’ll definitely have a lot of adrenaline flowing. Be pumped up the first couple innings, but hopefully we can come out with a W.”
On his decision to start Lange, the reigning National Freshman of the Year, Saturday, Mainieri referenced a mental note he took from coaching Aaron Nola for two similarly dominant seasons.
“I think when the other team knows they have to face a guy as good as Lange in game two, it keeps them from getting overconfident as well,” Mainieri said. “I remember when Nola used to pitch the first game of a weekend series, you could almost hear the coach telling their team after the game, after Nola beat them, ‘they don’t have anyone as good as that guy’ and it gave the other team a lift. I think if we can battle like Poche will and we win on a Friday night, then Lange is an asset.”
The appeal of separating left-handers Poche’ and Valek also played a role.
As far as the rotation goes, Mainieri wouldn’t commit to the order going any further than opening weekend. He strongly indicated it’ll be sophomore Austin Bain who starts LSU’s first midweek game of the season at Lamar.
The choice of Valek over Bain on Sunday came down to one key factor — experience.
“I just think Valek is a crafty guy, a finely tuned pitcher that’s pitched almost 300 innings in college,” Mainieri said. “He’s more consistent, his stuff isn’t overpowering, you have to play good defense behind him, but I think he’s got a good chance to keep you in the game and give you a good chance to win on Sunday, so let’s see how that plays out.”
On an injury front, Mainieri remained hopeful that hard-throwing righty Riley Smith — a candidate for weekend starting duty — will be able to throw a bullpen session late next week. Mainieri said ther’s an “outside chance” he’s able to pitch an inning in Sunday’s series finale, but the more likely scenario is him piggybacking off Bain at Lamar.
LSU PICTHING ROTATION
Friday vs CIN: Jared Poche’
Saturday vs CIN: Alex Lange
Sunday vs CIN: John Valek
Wednesday vs Lamar: Austin Bain