By JAMES MORAN
Tiger Rag Associate Editor
Meeting with reporters in his office, LSU coach Paul Mainieri joked about dreading the impending task of digesting the Vanderbilt stat booklet on the desk behind him before this weekend’s Southeastern Conference showdown.
Always the sunny optimist, Mainieri added that feeling should help him and his team stay focused on the task at hand: hosting cross town rival Southern at Alex Box Stadium on Tuesday night.
“I can assure you that we’re not looking beyond Southern right now,” Mainieri laughed, reminding all that it took LSU 10 innings to squeak out a 4-2 comeback victory at Southern last season.
Sticking with the Johnny Wholestaff approach, LSU (18-9, 4-5 SEC) will start Jesse Stallings. The right-hander has yet to pitch in an SEC series, and Mainieri explained the logic behind starting him being as simple as the need to get work for a reliever seen as “pivotal.”
“I think it’s important for him to start this game because their best hitters are going to come up in the first inning,” Mainieri said. “He’s got the best chance to get us off and I want him to be a little amped up because his velocity has been a little bit down.”
Mainieri said several pitchers will piece together the remainder of the ballgame after Stallings’ one frame. With the Vanderbilt series set to begin Thursday, it’s a safe bet none of LSU’s go-to arms would log too many pitches on Tuesday night.
Southern (8-17, 3-8 SWAC) comes into the game having lost five straight and six of its last seven. Coach Roger Cador and the Jags will start sophomore right-hander Harold Myles (0-4, 7.50 ERA).
While Mainieri didn’t divulge his lineup, it seems likely that Jordan Romero will be in it in as either the catcher or designated hitter. He praised the reserve as sparking his club’s slumbering offense throughout the weekend on the Plains.
“There’s a thing in coaching that you love to see where you give kids an opportunity and they seize the moment,” Mainieri said. “What Jordan did this weekend defines seizing the moment.”
CARTWRIGHT SET FOR MRI
Right-hander Alden Cartwright motioned to the dugout and immediately exited Sunday’s appearance at Auburn after feeling something ‘pop.’
Mainieri confirmed Monday the junior reliever is set to undergo an MRI this week to reveal how extensive the damage is, but the results aren’t expected to be positive in terms of returning this season.
“It’ll affect the long term in terms of his career,” Mainieri said. “But the news will not be good, even in the short term.”
The best case scenario, Mainieri says, would be a sprained ligament, and even that would keep Cartwright from picking up a baseball for 6-to-8 weeks. Worst case scenario would be surgery, which Mainieri says would put next season in question.
“I just feel so bad for the kid,” Mainieri said. “He gives his heart and soul to this program. Nobody loves LSU baseball more than he does.”
NEWS AND NOTES
– Left-hander Jake Latz threw a 43-pitch bullpen session in front of Mainieri and Alan Dunn Saturday in Auburn and a short box session Sunday, Mainieri said. He’ll face live hitters in practice Wednesday. If all goes well, he’ll pitch in one of the two midweek games next week. “He looked good. Not holding back at all. More importantly, the next day he felt good.”
– Third baseman O’Neal Lochridge took full batting practice by himself Sunday. Mainieri said he woke up Monday feeling a bit sore and went to see the back doctor in hopes of determining the cause.
– Right-hander Riley Smith was throwing in the outfield Monday before Mainieri met with reporters. There was no tangible update beyond “he’s progressing.”