Don’t pencil AJ Labas in as this year’s Zack Hess — or even a much softer-throwing version of the former lights-out reliever — just yet.
Labas made an unscheduled appearance out of the bullpen Sunday, working a scoreless seventh inning in LSU’s 7-5 rubber match win against Missouri. It was simply Labas’ bullpen day, LSU coach Paul Mainieri explained, and the freshman remains the midweek starter who’ll take the ball against Tulane.
Context: The LSU bullpen had given up eight runs is a disastrous eighth inning the night before, and with Labas already scheduled to throw his bullpen session, Mainieri approached LSU pitching coach Alan Dunn about having Labas be the bridge from starter Ma’Khail Hilliard to Nick Bush and Austin Bain.
“Instead of throwing a bullpen, let’s have his bullpen be to warm up and see if he can get us through an inning,” Mainieri said. “After that display of bullpen work last night, you’re a little bit shorthanded down there. I thought it was a good plan. Labas did what he did and he’ll still be able to start Wednesday night.”
Some starters would have trouble facing live hitters on the bullpen day, which is predicated more on getting work in then being effective, but Labas isn’t a power pitcher by nature, which minimized any potential downside.
“For Labas, who is a strike thrower that isn’t going to try to overpower you, I think that was easy for him,” Mainieri said. “Sixteen pitches. Hardly broke a sweat really.”
The coach didn’t rule out using Labas out of the bullpen on weekends in the future. It’s always tempting because Southeastern Conference games are more important than midweek results, but the Mainieri said he wouldn’t do it unless Labas had two full days of rest before his next start.
“If he’s scheduled to pitch on a Tuesday, I don’t think we could do it,” he said. “Although these games are the more important ones. We’ll see.”
LSU trainer Cory Couture has been a busy man this spring.
He may have done his best work yet this weekend.
Center fielder Zach Watson dealt with back spasms Thursday that nearly kept him out of practice and nearly the lineup, Mainieri revealed Sunday. He credited Couture for getting the star sophomore ready to play.
“I wasn’t sure until Friday afternoon that he could play,” Mainieri said. “I’ve got to give all the credit in the world to our trainer, Cory Couture, who did some very aggressive treatment to get him ready to go.”
Watson said he still felt sore on Friday and Saturday, but his production certainly didn’t suffer any ill effects. He went 8-for-14 against Missouri with five RBI and four runs scored.
Watson wasn’t the only ailing Tiger this weekend, either.
Left fielder Beau Jordan woke up Sunday with a stiff neck, but he was able to play. Jordan, not exactly a noted speedster, made a leaping grab up against the wall Sunday and stole a base to boot.
“I wasn’t sure he was going to be able to play,” Mainieri said, “but Cory used the magic fingers on his neck and got him to go as well.”
EMPTYING THE NOTEBOOK
– Infielder Josh Smith continued to do core workouts this weekend without pain. He’s still on track to begin throwing early this week, Mainieri said.
– How do players spent a one-hour rain delay like the one LSU enduring Sunday? Watson said he was only of many who spent it watching another Tiger, namely Woods, compete in the Arnold Palmer Invitational: “We watched golf,” Watson said. “Tiger was playing.”
LSU IN THE POLLS
It was a fairly stagnant week for LSU in the four major polls after a 3-1 week in which the Tigers won their first SEC series.
LSU moved up one spot in two polls while dropping one place in another. Here’s a look at where LSU stands one weekend into conference play. As always, the previous week’s ranking are in parenthesis:
D1Baseball 19 (20)
Baseball America 18 (17)
Perfect Game 16 (16)
College Baseball Newspaper 15 (16)