“My only concern right now is beating Lamar” | LSU comes home looking to right the ship after 0-4 week

It’s been a tough second season at Lamar for former LSU assistant Will Davis, but he apparently received some words of encouragement from his old boss a few weeks ago.

LSU coach Paul Mainieri said

“I talked to Will when he was going through a really tough stretch,” Mainieri told a group of reporters in his office Monday. “I tried to perk him up a little bit, share with him some experiences that I’ve had so that he would understand it’s not easy. He’s such a young guy with high hopes, but it’s hard to win college baseball games. But Will has done a remarkable job and he’s righted the ship.”

Lamar (13-37) won six straight games before falling to Abilene Christian in 13 innings on Sunday. Davis and Co. head to Baton Rouge on Tuesday night as LSU (24-17) looks to right its own ship coming off a disastrous 0-4 week and a sweep at the hands of South Carolina.

There will be a warm reunion when the two coaches exchange lineups on Tuesday night — Mainieri joked that he may present Davis with a bobble head that Davis placed on a shelf in his office years ago — but the LSU skipper will be focused on getting a badly-needed win after that.

“My only concern right now is beating Lamar tomorrow night,” Mainieri said. “Honestly that’s it. That’s the only thing that’s even remotely on my mind … We’re going to have our hands full, there’s no doubt about that.”

The key to doing so may be a strong return to form for midweek starter AJ Labas, who has been hit hard in his previous two outings. The freshman has been tagged for eight earned runs in just four innings between a relief appearance against Tennessee and his most recent start at Tulane.

Labas isn’t an overpowering pitcher by nature, working with an 88-89 mph fastball and off-speed pitches that don’t generate a ton of swing-and-misses, so he needs to re-establish the pinpoint command that made him successful earlier this season.

“It’s more than just throwing strikes,” Mainieri said. “You have to have very good control within the strike zone. And he has to have some good fortune. He has to have some balls hit at people and we have to make the plays behind him. He has to have better location because you can’t all the sudden make him throw 103 mph.”

Circumstances haven’t been kind to Labas of late, either. The wind was blowing hard out to right field in both of his recent sub-par outings, which makes life tough on a pitch-to-contact guy.

“We need him to pitch deep into the game tomorrow night as much as we’ve ever needed it after what happened with the bullpen this past weekend,” Mainieri said. “Not just the lack of success, but how hard they all worked. We need a good outing by him tomorrow night.”

GOOD NEWS TEXT

The most positive development of the day came in the form of a text message Mainieri received from Josh Smith once the team returned to Baton Rouge on Sunday night.

“It said ‘I’m ready to play this week,’” Mainieri shared with the gaggle of reporters. “Now I don’t know what that means. I haven’t even seen Josh yet. I know he’s coming down to the training room in a little bit. I know he wants to play and he’s feeling better.”

Smith stayed behind from the trip to Columbia and continued his rehab work. The sophomore infielder even went to the batting cages and took some swings for the first time since suffering a setback two weeks ago.

If Smith feels good, Mainieri said LSU may take him on the field for some additional work Monday afternoon. The rest of the team has a day off.

“He can’t get back soon enough for my liking, I can tell you that,” Mainieri said.

ANOTHER COLD ONE

Here’s the conundrum for Mainieri: Nick Bush thrived as a No. 3 starter, posting career highs in innings (5) and strikeouts (7), but without him in the bullpen, LSU blew a 6-0 lead on Sunday once he left the game.

There’s no obvious decision here, but the way the schedule falls may force Mainieri’s hand at least for this week.

Bush threw 89 pitches Sunday, more than double his previous season-high, making it unlikely he’d be ready to pitch out of the bullpen on Thursday night when LSU begins its series against Ole Miss.

That changes the equation.

“If this was a regular week, I’d say no, you don’t save him until Sunday,” Mainieri said. “But the fact that it’s a short week and he threw 89 pitches, I don’t think he’s going to ready to pitch out of the bullpen on Thursday. It’s too short of a turnaround and Friday would be a question as well.”

OTHER INJURY UPDATES

– There wasn’t a tangible update on Caleb Gilbert, who didn’t make the trip to South Carolina. LSU is “hopeful” he could be available some time this week, but he hasn’t resumed throwing yet.

– Nick Storz was also left home from the trip to Columbia to continue his rehabilitation. Mainieri said he could throw a bullpen session later this week, but didn’t want to speculate further. “Every time I speculate it seems like I jinx them,” he added.

– Bryce Jordan will continue to be available as a bat off the bench, Mainieri said, but his bruised knee hasn’t allowed him to get back in the field yet.

LSU (NOT) IN THE POLLS

LSU dropped out of the top 25 in all four major polls for the first time since before the 2012 season. That ends a streak of 124 consecutive weeks in which LSU was ranked by at least one of the four that dates back to before the 2012 season.

“That’s a run I’m pretty proud of,” Mainieri said. “What’s that, almost seven years?”

Here’s a reminder of how far LSU fell in all four polls (last week’s rankings are in parenthesis, as always), as well as LSU’s RPI with four weeks to go in the regular season.

D1Baseball NR (19)

Baseball America NR (18)

Perfect Game NR (22)

Collegiate Baseball NR (18)

RPI 58

About James Moran 1377 Articles
James Moran was Editor of Tiger Rag from August 2018 to October 2019. He previously served as the associate editor since 2014. He is a graduate of the LSU Manship School of Journalism.

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