By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
OMAHA, Neb. — Eric Walker’s season is almost certainly over.
LSU will likely shut down the freshman right hander for the remainder of the College World Series, LSU coach Paul Mainieri announced Tuesday. Walker will undergo an MRI on his right arm whenever the team returns to Baton Rouge.
Walker left Monday’s 13-1 loss to Oregon State just four pitches into the third inning. He called for Mainieri and LSU trainer Cory Couture to remove him from the game after his forearm tightened up during his warm-up tosses.
The decision to shut Walker down was made Tuesday morning, the coach said, when it became apparent that the pain had “radiated” from the forearm that gave him some trouble last week toward his elbow.
“The encouraging thing is he didn’t feel anything pop or anything like that,” Mainieri said. “But the pain has radiated a little beyond just that forearm, so obviously we’re always concerned about the ligament.”
Walker has no history of arm trouble, which gives the staff optimism that this is still just a fatigued muscle or a strain and not something more serious.
The tightness cropped up after a 75-pitch intra-squad outing last Tuesday, but Walker threw pain free in a side session Saturday and felt fine all week. He looked sharp until experiencing discomfort while warming up for that third inning on Monday night.
“I would have never put him in the game if I had any doubt whatsoever about his health,” Mainieri said. “Everybody was convinced that he was 100 percent healthy and had just had some muscle fatigue that’d worked itself out.”
The loss of Walker leaves LSU’s pitching staff shorthanded in more ways than one.
For one, it forced LSU to fashion seven largely-ineffective innings out of its bullpen on Monday night, a big reason for the lopsided defeat.
It’s also going to force Mainieri to pull Caleb Gilbert out of that bullpen and have him ready to start a potential winner-take-all game on Saturday, should the Tigers get that far. Jared Poche’ will start against Florida State on Wednesday night with Alex Lange set for Friday, as Mainieri announced Monday.
That’s three competent starters for three win-or-go-home games, but it doesn’t leave much of a bridge between them and Zack Hess.
LSU is going to need Hunter Newman to be far more effective than he was Monday (1+ IP, 5 ER) and for relievers like Nick Bush and Todd Peterson to take on greater roles.
“We’re going to need a lot of guys to step up and be better than they were last night obviously,” Mainieri said.
STAYING THE COURSE
There’s two options for a team after sustaining a shellacking like the 13-1 defeat LSU suffered at the hands of Oregon State.
A coach can either shake things up to provide a spark or chalk it up as an aberration and stay with what got them to that point.
Mainieri is opting for the ladder, telling reporters Tuesday that he wouldn’t switch up the lineup for Wednesday night’s elimination game against Florida State.
“This is the lineup that’s been working for us, and I don’t think it’s time to panic at all,” Mainieri said. “We’ve just got to go with the guys who’ve gotten us to this point in the order that got us here, and hopefully we’ll play a lot better tomorrow.”
The players echoes those sentiments Tuesday.
LSU has scored just six runs through two games in the College World Series. Two came on solo home runs from Zach Watson and Mike Papierski, and three scored as a result from a pair of bizarre defensive miscues on the part of Florida State on Saturday night.
The Tigers managed just four hits — one through six innings — against Oregon State starter Bryce Fehmel on Monday, but LSU’s leaders were emphasizing the need to stay positive.
“I don’t think it’s been as bad as it seems,” second baseman Cole Freeman said. “Especially early in the game yesterday, we put some good swings on balls that just happened to be right at defenders. The biggest thing is we’re not pressing. We’ve won 17 of our last 18 games.
“It’s just one game. We’re still the same team that won 17 games in a row. It’s just that nothing went right for us yesterday.”
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