Inside: Paul Mainieri sets opening weekend rotation
By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
Paul Mainieri had to make sure Beau Jordan understood that he wasn’t messing around.
Giving the annual state of the program address as media day, Mainieri publicly put his incumbent left fielder on notice. The coach declared left field an open competition — in fact the only one among LSU’s nine starting positions — between Jordan and sophomore Brennan Breaux.
Mainieri praised the improvement he’d seen from Breaux, who registered just five hits all of last season, while chastising Jordan’s struggles down the stretch. LSU’s season ended with the Lake Charles native mired in a 2-for-22 slump.
“He hit a couple of home runs and all of the sudden he wanted to be a home run hitter,” Mainieri said. “He changed his swing and it got away from him. Then this summer was more of the same and even into the fall, and basically I told him ‘Look, if you want to play every day, you’ve got to go back to doing what you do best.’ And suddenly I think he saw the seriousness of what I was saying.”
Now a week from Opening Night, LSU coaches have seen encouraging returns since the wake-up call. Jordan “has been swinging the bat tremendous,” Mainieri said, as he’s gotten back to doing the things that made him successful during the first half of last season.
Jordan has enough power to clear the fences, but he’s at his best as a doubles hitter who uses the entire field from foul line to foul line. He’s shortened his swing and become more compact to the baseball, which allows him to let pitches travel deeper into the zone before pulling the trigger.
“It was just one of those things where we saw him getting tied up inside and he was a little pull happy,” LSU hitting coach Micah Gibbs said. “So I got with him and we looked at tape from last year of when he hit balls hard. Everything was up the middle and to right field. Just trying to get him to buy in, and once he did, he’s been hitting balls so much harder. Now it’s about learning to pull the ball the right way.”
Still, he hasn’t won the left fielder job quite yet. It remains a two-horse race, Mainieri said, though Breaux has been kept out of practice this week due to soreness in his throwing arm.
Breaux, a speedier outfielder than Jordan, didn’t hit much as a freshman last season, but did provide a glimmer of a bright future during a three-game series against Arkansas.
The Lafayette native picked up four of his five career hits in the series with one double, four RBI and a .714 on-base percentage. His two-run double in the ninth inning of the famed ‘Rally Possum’ game helped force extra innings before the Tigers prevailed in the 10th inning.
Gibbs has worked with Breaux on being a little less picky at the plate.
“He had such good plate discipline that sometimes you could see him being too passive,” Gibbs said. “You could tell he was taking some pitches he could’ve driven, and now he’s a lot more aggressive. He’s using the whole field and still has that plate discipline. That just speaks to more maturity.”
The status of Breaux’s ailing arm will obviously play a factor, but it seems this competition will extend into the regular season at this rate.
As expected, LSU will begin the regular season with true freshmen slated to start on Sunday and in the midweek.
Mainieri unveiled his opening week rotation Wednesday. Right-handed ace Alex Lange will start Opening Night followed by lefty Jared Poche’ on Saturday and freshman Eric Walker on Sunday. Zack Hess, another rookie right-hander, will take the ball Tuesday at UNO.
“It’s pretty much what I expected to happen, and neither one has done anything to discourage me from that plan,” Mainieri said. “I think both of them have a chance to be outstanding.”
As previously reported, Mainieri and pitching coach Alan Dunn will observe the two rookies over the course of three starts before making a decision prior to the final weekend of non-conference play.
One will head into Southeastern Conference play as the Sunday starter, while the other’s role will depend on how the LSU bullpen shapes out. If the relief corps is solid, Mainieri would be thrilled to develop the second freshman as a midweek starter. If not, he’ll help solidify the bullpen.
Walker says he’s been picking the brains of Lange and Poche’ to prepare for his debut. Like Walker, the pair of veterans each started their collegiate careers in the weekend rotation.
“It’s a luxury having Poche’ and Lange here,” Walker said. “Learning from guys like that, it kind of puts you ahead before you’ve even started … They have that advice. They have that experience. It’s definitely something to learn from and you soak up as much of it as you can.”
Don’t expect to see any of the starters overextended this first time through the rotation. Mainieri said each through three innings in scrimmages last time out and were scheduled to work their way up to four during the final round of preseason scrimmages.
Each will be limited to “five or six” innings the first time out, Mainieri said, with the exception of Lange. The right-hander got a slower start to the throwing program than the others, Mainieri said, and LSU will be cautious in keeping its workhorse healthy and fresh for the long run.
“I don’t envision him going more than three or four innings on Opening Night,” Mainieri said.
LSU was tapped as co-favorites with to win the Southeastern Conference championship in the annual preseason vote by league coaches. The Tigers were also voted as overwhelming favorite to take the SEC West.
In addition, five players were voted preseason All-SEC. Here’s the full poll and preseason squads.
2017 SEC Baseball Coaches Preseason Poll
- Florida – 70
- South Carolina – 61
- Vanderbilt – 52
T4. Georgia – 29
T4. Kentucky – 29
- Tennessee – 20
- Missouri – 12
- LSU – 72
- Texas A&M – 55
- Ole Miss – 51
- Mississippi State – 36
- Arkansas – 27
T6. Alabama – 16
T6. Auburn – 16
SEC Champion: Florida (6), LSU (6), South Carolina (2)
2017 SEC Baseball Coaches Preseason All-SEC Team
C: Mike Rivera, Florida
1B: Evan White, Kentucky
2B: Cole Freeman, LSU
SS: Dalton Guthrie, Florida
3B: Jonathan India, Florida
OF: Jake Mangum, Mississippi State
OF: Jeren Kendall, Vanderbilt
OF: Antoine Duplantis, LSU
DH/UTL: JJ Schwarz, Florida
SP: Alex Faedo, Florida
SP: Kyle Wright, Vanderbilt
RP: Tyler Johnson, South Carolina
C: Jason Delay, Vanderbilt
1B: JJ Schwarz, Florida
2B: Tate Blackman, Ole Miss
SS: Kramer Robertson, LSU
3B: Colby Bortles, Ole Miss
OF: Greg Deichmann, LSU
OF: Brent Rooker, Mississippi State
OF: Luke Bonfield, Arkansas
DH/UTL: Alex Destino, South Carolina
SP: Alex Lange, LSU
SP: Tanner Houck, Missouri
RP: Matt Ruppenthal, Vanderbilt