LSU won’t practice as a full team until Jan. 25, at which point Paul Mainieri and his staff will have three weeks of intra-squad scrimmages to get ready for Opening Night.
Pitchers need more than three weeks to get ready. Most throwing program begin in December and heat up throughout individual workouts, which began this week with the start of the spring semester.
That isn’t news. In fact the NCAA-prescribed limit of four hours a week that players and coaches can work together during this time has been around for a while.
What is newsworthy, however, is the fact that a handful of LSU’s prized pitchers appear to be much healthier now than they were the last time LSU practiced as a complete team.
“We didn’t know which of them was going to be available for us, but they’ve all progressed amazingly since fall practice,” Mainieri said Friday. “At this point we’re counting on them all being ready to go, so that’s encouraging.”
Aside from Nick Storz, who may miss the entire season, all of LSU’s pitchers are at least throwing off flat ground with five weeks to go until the season begins.
Sophomore Ma’Khail Hilliard, who didn’t pitch all fall due to shoulder soreness, has looked impressive early on. He’s on track to compete for a spot in the starting rotation, Mainieri said.
LSU coaches are also encouraged by the progress of Caleb Gilbert (shoulder surgery), Matt Beck (elbow soreness), Cole Henry (stress reaction/arm), Rye Gunter (stress fracture/back) and Easton McMurray (undisclosed).
McMurray, the only left-hander on LSU’s staff, is particularly interesting. Coaches have been impressed with his stuff in bullpen sessions after the freshman didn’t throw at all in the fall.
Sophomore AJ Labas has progressed to the point of throwing off flat ground at 120 feet. That’s progress as Labas (shoulder soreness) wasn’t able to throw at all before departing for winter break.
For now, the focus is on Labas building up arm strength. Labas hasn’t thrown off a mound since before the SEC Tournament last May, and Mainieri wasn’t sure of any timetable for him to face live hitters.
“It’s encouraging,” Mainieri said. “I just don’t know where he is yet. He’s behind the other guys.”
The other pitcher who is a bit behind schedule right now is Eric Walker, but Mainieri said there is no cause for concern.
Walker felt some arm soreness following his final outing of fall practice, so during winter break the right-hander went to see the Dallas-based doctor who performed his Tommy John surgery.
“He was 100 percent fine and the doctor cleared him,” Mainieri said. “He’s been throwing on the regular program since the doctor cleared him, but he’s just a week behind everybody.”
According to Mainieri, that week isn’t difficult to make up. Walker may only pitch in two intra-squad scrimmages instead of the usual three, but he’s expected to be ready for opening weekend.
LSU checked in at No. 1 in preseason polls published by Perfect Game and Collegiate Baseball, the only such polls released to this point. A substantial uptick in pitching depth is one of the big reasons why.
“I’m really encouraged by the health of our pitchers now,” Mainieri said. “And what I’ve seen in the first few days is, when they’re healthy, we clearly have some good arms out there. We have a chance to have the best depth as a staff that we’ve experienced in my time at LSU.”
LSU will open the season against UL-Monroe on Feb. 15 at Alex Box Stadium. First pitch is set for 7 p.m.