LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri said he hasn’t approached “panic mode” about his bullpen blowing two leads of four runs or more and surrendering 18 of 22 runs in the eighth inning or later in this past weekend’s three-game sweep of Texas-San Antonio.
“The positive is that our starting pitching was so outstanding,” Mainieri said during Monday’s news conference. “We’ve just got to sprinkle a little magic dust on those guys down there and hopefully it will get better for us as we move through the season.”
The ineffectiveness of LSU’s bullpen Saturday and Sunday provided for a pair of dramatic come-from-behind wins that have the No. 10 Tigers (14-5) carrying a five-game win streak into its final non-conference matchup before the start of Southeastern Conference play vs. No. 4 Mississippi State on Friday.
The Tigers host Southeastern Louisiana (11-4), which brings in an eight-game win streak into Tuesday’s 6:30 p.m. game at Alex Box Stadium.
Mainieri believes the Lions will provide his club with a similar test UTSA presented.
“It didn’t surprise me that we had to fight for our lives there at the end,” Mainieri said. “We learned a lot of lessons yesterday (Sunday) and fortunately we were able to win the ball game. We learned a lot about ourselves and what we’re capable of doing. We don’t want to make a habit out of that. It’s also pretty exciting and memorable for our players to experience what they experienced over this past weekend.”
After having to score twice in the bottom of the eighth in Friday’s opener for a 3-1 victory, LSU rode strong pitching performances from starters Landon Marceaux on Saturday and A.J. Labas for six-inning pitching each day, and established leads of 4-0 through seven innings and 9-2 through six innings, respectively.
The Tigers’ bullpen, which worked a total of 14.1 innings in the three-game series, combined for an earned run average of 10.67 with 21 hits, 17 earned runs with 12 strikeouts.
LSU’s bullpen allowed three runs in the eighth and another in ninth to force extra innings Saturday’s 13-inning 10-9 victory.
The Tigers went through six relievers in that stretch as Alex Brady, Aaron George, Ma’Khail Hilliard, Garrett Edwards, Trent Vietmeier and Jacob Hasty yielded five runs on five hits and walked five with one wild pitch.
Third baseman Cade Doughty, this week’s SEC Player of the Week, hit his second three-run home run of the game in the 10th inning to extend the game. The Tigers tied the game at 9-all with two runs in the 12th and won the game on Jordan Thompson’s solo homer in the 13th.
Starting pitcher Labas staked LSU to a 9-2 advantage in Sunday’s game before relievers The Javen Coleman, Aaron George and Vietmeier allowed nine runs (all earned) on 10 hits, three walks, four wild pitches and a hit batter.
Not only did the relief pitching falter, but the LSU offense didn’t substantially extend the lead. The Tigers left 17 runners on base until they back-to back homers in the 10th from Thompson and pinch-hitter Hayden Travinski.
Winning pitcher Theo Millas (1-0) worked a perfect 11th inning, stranding a runner at second under the new international tiebreaker format, and Gavin Dugas delivered the game-winning single in the bottom half of the inning to score Will Safford from third base.
“Maybe we wouldn’t have never built that kind of confidence in ourselves had we not been placed in that situation,” Mainieri said. “During the course of the game ,we let a lot of opportunities pass us by. Even though it looked like a good offensive day, it needed to be better than it was for us to win. I knew once Labas left the game that our bullpen was going to be very thin, and it was going to be a challenge against a good hitting team with the wind blowing out.”
Even though LSU has nine relief pitchers with ERA’s of 5.00 or higher, Mainieri said that despite the taxing weekend there were several relief efforts worth noting.
He pointed to Edwards (who recorded the save in Friday’s victory), Floyd (who may be ready to pitch longer in games), Blake Money, Millas, Hilliard, Michael Fowler and Devin Fontenot.
Five of those pitchers are true freshmen as is Will Hellmers (3-1, 1.23 ERA), LSU’s scheduled starter against Southeastern.
“Who has a perfect team?,” Manieri said. “Who’s going to have great starting pitching? A lockdown bullpen and then an offense that’s capable of doing the things that we did?
“Maybe the L.A. Dodgers. The silver lining is that our kids got thrown into a situation in which they had to respond. They didn’t do it just one day, they did it three days.”