An old friend is listed as the probable starter for LSU’s regular-season finale against Auburn on Saturday afternoon.
No, not Johnny Wholestaff. His eligibility is no more. But pretty close.
“Mr. TBA,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri laughed. “He’s pitched well for us through the years.”
Who follows Zack Hess and Ma’Khail Hilliard in the do-or-die series for LSU will depend both on how the first two games go and the status of AJ Labas’ ailing shoulder, which was the reason he was scratched from starting Sunday against Alabama.
LSU may also have to hold lefty Nick Bush, who started and won in Labas’ place Sunday, pending a determination on whether or not Labas will be able to take the ball.
“I have no idea if AJ will be ready to pitch or not, so we’ll have to monitor that,” Mainieri said.
Labas (6-1, 2.98 ERA), who spoke to reporters before LSU departed Wednesday morning, said he felt a sharp pain in his shoulder last week, but insisted he felt much better when he threw earlier this week. The plan is for him to throw again when LSU practices at Plainsman Park on Wednesday night.
“My shoulder feels pretty good right now,” Labas said. “Last week I was just having a little bit of soreness in the back of my shoulder, so me and (LSU trainer) Cory (Couture) have been doing rehab on it all week. I threw yesterday and felt fine, so there’s not any problems anymore.”
The freshman right-hander was stellar in his first Southeastern Conference start, going six strong innings against a loaded Arkansas lineup to win a rubber match two Sundays ago. He allowed one run on four hits and showed better velocity than he had all season.
Labas acknowledged that he was frustrated that he wasn’t able to start last week because he embraces pitching in critical games.
“I feel like I pitch better in games like that because I stay focused longer,” Labas said. “You just keep your intensity up the whole game. You have to make quality pitches all the time and hit your spots. Against a team like Arkansas, they hit mistakes. If you don’t hit your spots, they’ll hit you really hard.”
PACKING FOR THE LONG HAUL
So much for traveling light, huh?
Everyone who made the trip to Auburn was told to pack for the possibility that LSU doesn’t return to Baton Rouge until next Sunday, Mainieri said.
Here’s why: the SEC changed a long-standing rule that every week 10 game must be completed on the scheduled day, meaning, with rain in the forecast, LSU and Auburn may not finish this weekend’s Thursday-Saturday series until Sunday if championships or SEC Tournament seeding are on the line.
“If anybody is fighting for seeding or championships and you can’t complete the series by Saturday, you have to stay over and complete the series on Sunday,” Mainieri said.
As of now, LSU is planning to return home Saturday night and depart for Hoover on Monday. However, if the Auburn series lasts into Sunday, LSU may go directly from Auburn to Hoover and begin SEC Tournament preparations to play sometime Tuesday.
Mainieri clarified that the quick turnaround wouldn’t prevent LSU from adding additional players to the SEC Tournament roster. Teams are allowed to bring 30 players to Hoover as opposed to the 27 allowed for a normal SEC weekend.
The coach said one of LSU’s equipment managers would drive a van to Hoover in the event LSU doesn’t make it back to Baton Rouge. Additional players, including Josh Smith, who didn’t make the trip to Auburn, would be able to join the team for the SEC Tournament that way.
“If we come back, then if we want to add people to the roster we can take them back with us on Monday,” Mainieri said. “If we just stay there, then we’re going to bring a van. Our equipment manager Matt Montgomery will be driving an equipment van and can bring the additional players if we so desire.”
Mainieri didn’t speculate whether Smith has any chance of playing in the SEC Tournament, but he didn’t rule it out, either.
Daniel Cabrera is the reigning SEC Freshman of the Week coming off a torrid homestand in which he hit three home runs and collected 15 RBI.
His coach dropped a serious hint that his red-hot bat could land him a spot on Team USA this summer, and considering Mainieri is the coach of the Collegiate National Team, too, it stands to reason that he’d be the one to know.
“If he keeps going along this kind of route, he has a good chance to maybe make the USA team this summer and go on and have a stellar career here at LSU,” Mainieri said.
Cabrera is presently hitting .337 and leads LSU in home runs (8) and RBIs (46) this season. The last LSU freshman to compile those numbers was Mike Fontenot in 2000, per LSU sports information director Bill Franques.
Junior pitcher Caleb Gilbert was named LSU’s representative to the SEC Baseball Community Service Team, the league office announced this week.
Gilbert is heavily involved in the Live 2 Play program with the Baton Rouge YMCA, in which volunteers go to underprivileged neighborhoods and play sports with local kids at various parks and gymnasiums. He’s also involved in youth baseball clinics and makes children’s hospital visits.