There was a tear in the eye of LSU coach Paul Mainieri when Eric Walker jogged in from the bullpen on Opening Night.
Walker hadn’t appeared in a meaningful game since the 2017 College World Series, and his return from Tommy John surgery was understandably an emotional night for all involved.
With two relief appearances — one effective, one not so much — Walker is set to make his first start against South Alabama on Tuesday night at Alex Box Stadium. Mainieri is expecting a more business-like outing.
“He’s into the season now,” Mainieri said. “I just thought of what it must have been like for that kid for the 18 previous months. The dejection, the surgery, the rehabilitation and all the work you have to put into it to come back.
“Now he’s been on the mound a couple times. I just want to see him pitch well and lead his team to victory.”
Walker would have started at Northwestern State last Wednesday had the game not been postponed due to inclement weather and field condition. A stomach bug kept him from pitching in LSU’s midweek game against Southeastern.
LSU has made a point of wanting to up his arm strength and pitch count, but he’s only logged four innings through two weeks.
His performance in the season opener was vintage Walker, as the right-hander logged 2.1 scoreless innings having allowed just one hit. Walker lost his command in his second inning of work against Bryant on Friday, allowing three runs on one hit, two walks and a hit batsman.
Walks in general were the topic of discussion as LSU pitching coach Alan Dunn called a meeting with his staff after Saturday’s 17-8 win over Bryant.
LSU pitchers issued 10 walks and hit six batters over the first two games of the series, most of which occurred after LSU had built a large lead. Dunn was understandably frustrated by that fact.
“AD had a talk with us and just said ‘We’re not afraid of anything, what are we doing?’” closer Todd Peterson said. “We weren’t trusting our stuff and trusting our defense with a 10-run lead. All you’ve got to do is throw it over the plate. Just let them get themselves out. Hitting is hard. I’m not saying pitching is easy, but if you throw it over the plate and trust your defense, the odds are in your favor.”
Freshman Cole Henry will get the start against Southern on Wednesday night, Mainieri said. He gave up four runs (three earned) on seven hits in 2.2 innings in his first collegiate start.
Both Ma’Khail Hilliard and Chase Costello are expected to make appearances this week after throwing without incident over the weekend.
“They both threw today,” Mainieri said Sunday. “I watched them and they both threw without pain. They looked good.”
Hilliard, who hasn’t pitched yet in 2019, underwent a non-evasive procedure last week to alleviate lingering shoulder soreness. The plan is for him to throw on Tuesday and make his season debut against Southern on Wednesday.
Costello missed the weekend after experiencing strange arm soreness after his latest appearance. LSU actually rushed him to a hospital out of fear it might be a blood clot, but all tests came back negative and he’s felt fine since.
“He’s fine now,” Mainieri said. “His arm feels great and hopefully he’ll pitch an inning on Tuesday.”
LSU IN THE POLLS
LSU stayed put in all four major polls for the second consecutive week after going 4-0 against Southeastern and Bryant. As always, last week’s rankings are in parenthesis:
D1Baseball 2 (2)
Baseball America 2 (2)
Perfect Game 1 (1)
Collegiate Baseball Newspaper 1 (1)