CORVALLIS, Ore. — The injury bug just won’t stop biting LSU, and the path to advancing beyond the Corvallis Regional is becoming more of a tightrope before a pitch has even been throw.
Freshmen right-handers Ma’Khail Hilliard and AJ Labas aren’t expected to pitch at all this weekend, LSU coach Paul Mainieri announced Thursday, effectively ruling out half of his starting rotation before beginning NCAA Tournament play on Friday.
“Looks like Hilliard and Labas are out for the weekend,” Mainieri said. “Both threw at practice earlier, and it didn’t go too good today. They’re fatigued and they need rest. Unfortunately, that rest probably won’t allow them to pitch this weekend.
“It’s not that I don’t reduce fractions, but when 2/4 of your rotation are not available to you at the most important time of the year, you can’t help but be a little discouraged by that.”
Neither pitcher has anything structurally wrong with their respective right arms, but both have dealt with soreness that Mainieri believes to be the result of fatigue.
Having logged 76 innings this season, Hilliard in particular seems to be feeling the effects of pitching deeper into the year than he’s accustomed to. Labas has dealt with various injuries all season after undergoing offseason back surgery.
Hilliard last pitched against Florida on May 23, throwing 97 pitches. He didn’t pick up a baseball again until Tuesday due to a pinching sensation he felt in the back of his right shoulder. Labas has been shut down due to shoulder soreness since May 19.
“We shut him down for a few days thinking it was overwork, but it hasn’t gotten any better,” Mainieri said of Hilliard.
LSU will start lefty Nick Bush against San Diego State on Friday afternoon with ace Zack Hess ready to go on full rest Saturday, but it’s anyone’s guess at this point who would start Sunday or Monday should the Tigers stay alive.
Easier said than done, of course, but it will be in LSU’s best interest to stay on the winner’s side of the bracket to lighten the load on its staff. Winning one game not started by Bush or Hess is considerably less daunting than trying to win two, particularly if it’s Oregon State awaiting in the regional finals.
“We have enough pitching to get through three games,” Mainieri said. “If we have to play more games than that, it’s going to be hard.”
Candidates to start on Sunday and beyond will likely be determined by who does and does not pitch in the first two games of the regional. Matt Beck and Caleb Gilbert made three starts between them during the Southeastern Conference Tournament as a shorthanded staff gutted its way through six games in as many days.
Could Cam Sanders be an option after his dominant showings in Hoover? The right-hander certainly possesses the versatility and has starter experience, but he’s also made himself invaluable out of the bullpen as a power arm.
“We’ll play it one game at a time,” Mainieri said. “Save a guy for game three and there might not be a game three or four.”
LSU also must deal with a shorthanded roster in terms of numbers. Mainieri said LSU came to Corvallis with just 26 players after leaving Nick Webre behind due to what he characterized as a “coach’s decision.” With Hilliard and Labas out, that drops the number down to 24.