By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
File this under news of the fairly obvious: Eric Walker will remain LSU’s Sunday starter as Southeastern Conference play begins this weekend.
LSU coach Paul Mainieri confirmed the decision following Sunday’s 9-2 drubbing of Wichita State.
“Eric Walker will be out third starter, there’s no question about that,” the coach said.
Had he said nothing at all, the results could’ve spoke for themselves.
The freshman right-hander is 2-0 in four starts and has pitched to a 2.14 ERA in 21 innings of work. He’s allowed 18 hits and issued five walks while striking out 22.
Walker followed up his six-inning gem in Houston with six shutout innings Sunday, showing an uncanny ability to work into and out of jams that reminded the coach of a right-handed Jared Poche’ — think “vintage Poche’,” not the dominating shutout machine he’s been this year.
“Not overpowering stuff, but he was able to make some big pitches when he needed to and get out of jams,” Mainieri said. “I was real proud of him and he deserved the win.”
High praise indeed for a rookie to receive from his coach. Walker’s veteran teammates have also taken note of the poise the rookie handles himself with in high-pressure situations.
Cole Freeman noted the way he shook off two first-inning home runs against Maryland and came back with three consecutive scoreless innings to enable a come-from-behind victory. It’s a quality that’s been missing from the parade of arms LSU has tried on Sundays over the past two seasons.
“We know if he’s struggling, he’s going to stay in there and give us everything he’s got,” Freeman said. “He shows a lot of poise and he shows a lot of veteran in him, and that was what, only his fourth start.”
“I kind of picked up on that in fall scrimmages,” Kramer Robertson added. “He’s a really composed guy. The moment never gets too big for him, and even when he gets in a jam, he’s got such good control of all of his pitches, you’re always going to be active on defense.”
Walker capped a weekend in which LSU’s three starting pitchers each won while logging 21 scoreless innings with more strikeouts (15) between them than they allowed hits and walks combined (11).
While one rookie sealed up the Sunday starter spot with his performance, the question shifted to what LSU would do with the other. Would the guy who didn’t end up in the weekend rotation develop as a midweek starter or bolster a bullpen that’s endured some rough spots?
For now, the answer appears to be both.
Zack Hess will start Tuesday night against Louisiana College, Mainieri announced. The coach also said he hopes to have Hess available to contribute out of the bullpen this weekend against Georgia, if necessary. The freshman struggled in his last start, walking four in 2.2 innings during LSU’s 5-4 loss at McNeese State.
“We’ll take it one game at a time,” Mainieri said. “Hopefully Zack will get out there and have a little better start than he did last week. But no question, Eric Walker will be our third starter.”
Mainieri hinted Zach Watson would make a third consecutive start in center field on Tuesday night after going 4-for-7 with a home run and four RBI in two starts over the weekend.
“I thought Zach Watson really played well,” Mainieri said. “He’ll be back in there again on Tuesday and we’ll see how it goes from there.”
The coach notes that Watson didn’t get many chances to show the range he’s looking for due to the howling Northeast winds that were blowing in all weekend long.
LSU (12-4) stayed put in three of the national polls and dropped one spot in a fourth coming off a 3-1 week in which the Tigers dropped a road game to McNeese State and swept three Wichita State at Alex Box Stadium.
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