Hunter Feduccia never thought his LSU debut would come as a pinch runner, but after spending opening weekend relegated to the sidelines with a broken hand, the LSU-Eunice transfer is ready to get back behind the plate.
Feduccia will start at catcher as LSU takes on UNO on Wednesday night, LSU coach Paul Mainieri announced Tuesday. It’s a much-needed return for LSU after a weekend in which LSU catchers allowed 10 stolen bases and were charged with three pass balls.
“He feels great and he’s ready to go,” Mainieri said. “He’ll be in there tomorrow night, which I think will help us immensely.”
Feduccia volunteered to catch a bullpen session on Tuesday and completed the assignment without incident. His hand had been too sore to catch since getting hit with a bat in his left hand two weeks ago, though he’s taken batting practice for the past week.
“No pain at all,” Feduccia said. “Felt great.”
Spending opening weekend in the dugout was difficult for Feduccia after winning the starting catcher job back in the fall. He appeared as a pinch runner in Sunday’s 11-3 loss to Notre Dame but otherwise was confined to spectator status as LSU dropped its opening series for the first time since 1999.
Now he’ll be back behind the plate and presumably bat in the heart of the order as LSU (1-2) takes on a UNO (2-1) club that swept the Tigers in a home-and-home series last season.
“I laid off of (catching) all this past weekend,” Feduccia said. “Hit a little bit in BP and stuff, and just wanted to see how it felt yesterday. It felt good.”
The return of Feduccia means Bryce Jordan will be back at first base on Wednesday night, Mainieri said. He’d yet to make a decision on who’ll start in left field and be the designated hitter between senior Beau Jordan and freshmen Daniel Cabrera and Nick Webre.
ROTATION FLIP FLOP
Zack Hess and Caleb Gilbert will flip flop spots in the weekend rotation, Mainieri announced, which means Hess will start the series opener against Texas on Friday night.
The decision isn’t a reflection on poor starts from both during the series loss to Notre Dame, the coach said, but more a move he’d been mulling since before the season started.
“It’s nothing real major,” Mainieri said. “It was never my intention of Caleb Gilbert being the Friday night starter. I wanted him to pitch the opening game of the season. I thought he deserved that … But when you compare stuff, the Friday night guy that has the best chance to dominate the opponent, I think Zack Hess has a better chance of being that guy.”
Neither Gilbert nor Hess made it out of the fifth inning in what was all around a rough first turn through LSU’s new weekend rotation. Gilbert was tagged for six runs (five earned) on 10 hits in 4.1 innings while Hess allowed eight earned runs in walked six in just 2.1 innings.
“I thought let’s put Zack on Friday night,” Mainieri said. “It’s a show of faith in him. You want to be a Friday night starter and a first-round draft pick? Go out there on Friday night against Texas and prove it. What better opportunity is there? You’re going against an outstanding pitcher in Nolan Kingham and there will be a bunch of scouts here to see it.”
Freshman right-hander AJ Labas threw a two-inning bullpen session on Tuesday and is ahead of schedule to return to live action, Mainieri said.
“He looked outstanding,” Mainieri said. “Threw three pitches for strikes. He looks almost ready to go.”
Labas, one of LSU’s highest-regarded pitching signees, has been working his way back from offseason back surgery in December. LSU originally targeted March 3 for a potential debut, but it could come even sooner than that.
He’ll throw a simulated game on Friday, the coach said, and depending on how he looks against hitters, he’ll either pitch in another simulated game or make his collegiate debut against Grambling next Tuesday.
Nick Storz, another highly-touted freshman, threw off flat ground on Tuesday. He underwent shoulder surgery to remove a bone spur in the fall and has been working his way back from a setback suffered earlier this spring.
“I’m like bubbling with excitement to see this guy,” Mainieri said. “This is a guy, in my opinion, can be like an Alex Lange. He can be that kind of bell cow for us on Friday nights. I’m anxious to get him back, but we have to wait.”
It’s clear that Mainieri has big plans for Labas and Storz once they’re fully healthy and ready to go, especially after a weekend in which LSU pitching issued 16 walks and hit nine batters.
How significant their roles will be will be determined by how they look and how well the rest of LSU’s pitchers fair this week and weekend, but the coach made it clear they could be developed as starters if Hess, Gilbert and Todd Peterson continue to struggle like they did against Notre Dame.
“We can’t hurry them back,” Mainieri said. “We have to let them be healthy and prepared to pitch, but when they do, that’s two outstanding pitchers that we get back in the fold. That’s got to help our whole staff. And whether they replace other guys in the rotation or go to the bullpen, that’ll remain to be seen. We’ll take a good hard look after this weekend.”