It’s a bit strange for a team ranked No. 1 in so many of the national polls to start two true freshmen in the opening weekend rotation.
Once you’ve seen Landon Marceaux and Jaden Hill pitch, it makes a lot more sense. The rookie duo held Army and Air Force to two runs on five hits over 10.2 combined innings with 13 strikeouts as LSU swept through the weekend.
LSU coach Paul Mainieri will turn the ball over to another true freshman, Cole Henry, with Southeastern coming to Alex Box Stadium on Tuesday night. The expectation level isn’t any lower for the massive right-hander.
“Gosh, I hope more of the same,” Mainieri said. “(Marceaux and Hill) were pretty impressive. You can see why we’re so high on them, and we’re equally as high as Cole Henry.”
Marceaux and Hill became the seventh and eighth true freshmen to start a season in the weekend rotation under Mainieri, but Henry actually made his debut first.
LSU brought Henry out of the bullpen in the seventh inning of a tie game against UL-Monroe on Opening Night. He flashed a 96 mph fastball and got the final two outs of the inning in a rare trial run not often afforded to a freshman.
“I don’t often pitch a freshman on Opening Night just to kind of let them absorb the atmosphere and kind of watch it without being counted on,” Mainieri said. “But Cole Henry we decided to do it because we wanted to get his feet wet for his start on Tuesday.”
He continued: “Cole has a personality of being very poised and composed. He doesn’t really get too hyper about things. I thought he’d throw a lot of strikes, and he did the other night, so I would expect more of the same on Tuesday night.”
That confidence speaks to how impressive Henry has been this fall. A stress reaction in his upper arm kept the Alabama native from competing in the fall, but he still managed to pitch his way into the starting rotation.
The mid-90s fastball is an attention grabber whenever Henry takes the mound, but LSU coaches are high on him as a three-pitch pitcher who can change speeds and locate within the zone.
Here’s a scouting report of sorts from LSU pitching coach Alan Dunn: “Big, big boy. I don’t know if you’ve shaken his hand, but it will engulf you. He has big hands and really repeats his mechanics. The ball comes out of his hand easy with great stuff, but it’s easy, so that gives him the ability to command. He’s a three-pitch mix guy and he seems to be even keel.”
– Sophomore right-hander Ma’Khail Hilliard was not available to pitch this weekend, Mainieri said. The recurring shoulder soreness that’s plagued him since the summer flared up again. The coach didn’t mention any timetable for him to resume throwing.
– Freshman left-hander Easton McMurray — the only southpaw on the staff — isn’t any closer to being able to pitch, Mainieri said. He’s scheduled to see a doctor early this week. Mainieri shot down the idea that Daniel Cabrera would resume pitching to give LSU a left-handed option.
DON’T MESS WITH SUCCESS
Opening weekend couldn’t have gone much better for the two true freshmen who are sharing the first base job.
Lefty-swinging Cade Beloso played the hero on Saturday with his dramatic walk-off home run to stun Army in the bottom of the ninth. Right-handed Drew Bianco got the start on Sunday against a southpaw and mashed his first career home run deep into the left-field bleachers.
For now LSU is going to continue to let the situation develop as a quasi-platoon. Beloso will get the start against Southeastern provided there is a right-handed pitcher on the mound.
“We’re just going to keep let it playing out,” Mainieri said. “I don’t think were close to making any decision there. Both guys are going to continue to play and we’ll let it play out.”
HILL NETS SEC HONOR
Right-handed pitcher Jaden Hill received SEC Freshman of the Week honors after his debut, the league office announced Monday.
Hill struck out eight over five innings of one-run ball in LSU’s 17-5 win over Air Force on Sunday. The Arkansas native allowed four hits and walked one.
LSU IN THE POLLS
LSU stayed put in all four of the major polls after a 3-0 start to the season. Here’s where things stand, and remember the previous week’s rankings are in parenthesis:
D1Baseball.com 2 (2)
Baseball America 2 (2)
Perfect Game 1 (1)
College Baseball Newspaper 1 (1)