As if getting swept by Texas wasn’t bad enough, LSU’s weekend got even worse once they packed up and tried to depart from Austin.
LSU waited hours for a flight that was eventually cancelled due to inclement weather. The team then had to bus back to Baton Rouge. LSU Paul Mainieri didn’t walk back into his house until 4:45 a.m.
Players have Monday off from practice and school due to Mardi Gras break, but Mainieri and LSU pitching coach Alan Dunn were back in the office this morning after a few hours of sleep.
The two met for a few hours Monday to rehash all that went wrong for LSU’s highly-touted pitching staff and discuss the future.
LSU pitchers issued 20 walks as Texas took the first two games of the weekend series in relatively easy fashion. The staff pitched better on Sunday, but closer Todd Peterson couldn’t hold a late lead as Texas rallied for three runs in the ninth inning to walk off as 7-6 winners.
“AD and I met for a couple hours because pitching is our No. 1 concern right now,” Mainieri said. “Obviously we’re not pitching like we had anticipated going into the season. We’ve just got to keep working with these guys.”
Two of the biggest culprits were LSU’s top two starters, Zack Hess and Landon Marceaux. They issued eight walks and hit a batter in 5.1 cumulative innings of work and were tagged for nine earned runs.
Hess, who struggled for the second time in three starts, has a bit of an excuse. He took a line drive off his upper arm in the first inning.
At first Hess appeared to thrive off the adrenaline, but Mainieri admits in hindsight he wished he would’ve pulled his ace before the muscles tightened up on a cold night.
“Zack Hess is about as courageous and tough a kid as there is,” Mainieri said. “If you or I got hit by that ball, we’d have been carted off. He kept pitching. I probably should’ve taken him out after the third inning.”
Line drive or not, Hess has struggled with his command at times. It’s perhaps more befuddling for Marceaux — a pitcher whose control has been likened to Aaron Nola or Eric Walker — struggle to find the plate the way he did.
It took Marceaux 59 pitches to get four outs on Saturday. Mainieri noted that the freshman actually got ahead in the count on all five of the hitters he either walked or hit, a sign that he struggled in his first start in front of a hostile crowd.
“We have to keep reminding ourselves they’re still freshmen,” Mainieri said. “This is the first time he’s been in an environment like that, and by his own admission he probably didn’t handle it as well as he needs to. He’ll handle it better the next time having gone through it, but you just can’t rush experience.”
If there was a bright spot from an otherwise dark weekend, it was the performance of Ma’Khail Hilliard. He struck out three over two scoreless innings on Saturday and has now notched back-to-back strong relief outings to begin his 2019 season.
Provided he feels good on Tuesday, Mainieri said the plan is for Hilliard to start against Holy Cross on Wednesday night.
“We could really use a healthy Ma’Khail Hilliard pitching the way he can pitch,” Mainieri said. “That was one of the bright spots of the weekend.”
Freshman Cole Henry (3.1 IP, 1 ER, 4 K) and junior Matt Beck (3.2 IP, 0 R) were two other bright spots out of the bullpen from the weekend.
Mainieri didn’t get into specifics, but with only one week left before the start of Southeastern Conference play, the pitchers who throw strikes are going to continue to get chances to prove they deserve bigger roles.