By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
LSU coach Paul Mainieri isn’t taking any chances.
Lefty Jared Poche’ will start Friday’s Baton Rouge Regional opener for the Tigers against Texas Southern, Mainieri announced Thursday.
The coach then proceeded to outline his line of thinking for pitching a weekend starter against a team with the lowest RPI in the NCAA Tournament field of 64. For one, he’s rested and able after departing his last start in Hoover having thrown just 70 pitches over six shutout innings.
A primary factor: Poche’s proven ability to come back on short rest later in the regional if need be. The southpaw defeated Utah Valley in the opener of last year’s Baton Rouge Regional and came back the next Tuesday to fire six innings of one-hit relief as LSU outlasted Rice in a do-or-die game seven.
“Just because we’re starting Jared Poche’ tomorrow doesn’t mean we’re going to burn him up tomorrow,” Mainieri said. “We’ll see how the game plays out … but I want to have a pitcher out there in the opening game because Texas Southern is hot and they have the kind of pitcher that could befuddle us for a little while.
“If that happens, I want our guy out there that I feel can keep it a low-scoring game. If the game develops in a way that’s favorable to us, we can always pull Jared and have him available later.”
Another concern: if LSU started a bullpen arm in the game and proceeded to win the regional in three games anyway, either Poche’ or Eric Walker wouldn’t get a chance to pitch. That’d mean making a potential super regional start without having taken the mound in two weeks.
“Hypothetically, if we Jack Wholestaffed the first game, (Alex) Lange won the second game and Jared won game three, Eric wouldn’t get an opportunity to pitch,” Mainieri explained. “As well as he’s pitching, I want to keep him going.”
As far as the matchup goes, there’s also a bit of strategy involved. Texas Southern stole 104 bases this season, which ranks No. 9 nationally.
Poche’ is LSU’s most effective pitcher at controlling the running game, which aides Mike Papierski, who threw out more would-be base stealers than any catcher in the Southeastern Conference.
“Obviously they like to run,” Poche’ said. “First and foremost, they try to keep opponents off the base paths. But if they do get on, I’ve got all the faith in the world in Pap to throw those guys out. Being left handed helps, but Pap is as good as it gets behind the plate.”
Minutes later he strolled past reporters, pizza in hand, off to go complete his film study of Texas Southern.
It’s one final regional together for Poche’ and Lange, LSU’s one-two punch for the past three years running. They’ve done some of their best work in this pressure-packed setting.
Lange is 3-1 career in the NCAA Tournament with a 3.23 ERA and 11.8 K/9. Poche’ is 4-1 in the tournament with a 2.45 ERA and 8.0 K/9. Together they’re 5-0 in NCAA Regional play with a cumulative ERA of 1.44.
“You know what you’re going to get out of them every time out,” outfielder Greg Deichmann said. “You know they’re going to compete their ass off for however many innings they can go. Having those guys on the weekend is huge. Especially in these next couple series coming up.”
First pitch for the two sets of Tigers is set for 2:30 p.m. on what could be a historic afternoon at Alex Box Stadium. If Poche’ earns the victory, he’ll tie Scott Schultz for the most wins in program history at 38.
As has been reported repeatedly, Poche’ himself doesn’t have much interest in discussing the record aside from the obligatory mention that if he wins, it means LSU won, which is good.
It’s not top priority, obviously, but Poche’s teammates remain determined to get the senior his record.
“He deserves it,” second baseman Cole Freeman said. “The coolest thing is, obviously he’s a really good player, but he’s an even better person. We all want to get it for him.”
So does Mainieri, The coach said Thursday that he asked the official scorer how long he’d have to leave Poche’ in the game to qualify for the win should the Tigers jump out to a large early lead.
Turns out that the pitcher who was in the game when the winning team takes the lead is the pitcher of record if the team uses at least three pitchers.