Notebook | LSU preps to face Florida State’s ace southpaw

By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor

OMAHA, Neb. — It’ll be a battle of aces as LSU and Florida State play their College World Series opener at 7 p.m. Saturday at TD Ameritrade Park.

Right-hander Alex Lange will take the ball for LSU, as Paul Mainieri announced earlier in the week. Long-time Seminole coach Mike Martin announced that he’d counter with sophomore southpaw Tyler Holton, his own top arm.

As it happens, Mainieri watched the lefty pitch against Auburn two weeks ago during the Tallahassee Regional. Suffice to say, he came away quite impressed.

“I thought I was watching Tom Glavine,” the coach recalled.

High praise indeed.

The Atlanta Braves Hall-of-Famer is about as good as it gets when it comes to lefties who don’t throw particularly hard, and Holton has put up Glavine-like numbers for Florida State this season.

Holton is 10-2 with a 2.25 ERA this season and has struck out 139 batters in 112 innings. Opponents are hitting just .171 against him and he’s posted a WHIP of 0.81, which is superb. He’s allowed two earned runs of fewer in each of his past seven starts.

Unlike Mississippi State ace Konnor Pilkington, the left that shut LSU out for six plus innings last Saturday, Holton doesn’t boast a mid-90s fastball.

“He’s got a very good changeup,” LSU hitting coach Micah Gibbs said. “It’s going to take a lot of discipline to stay off that pitch at certain times and look for it at certain times. Kind of a crafty lefty that mixes three pitches for strikes and keeps you off balance.”

That changeup is his out pitch. It can be a swing-and-miss pitch when Holton gets ahead in the count, as evidenced by his 11.2 K/9 pace, and when he’s behind, it’s effective in terms of keeping hitters off the fastball.

“It looks like a fastball,” shortstop Kramer Robertson said. “And once you see it and you know it’s there and he can control it, it speeds the fastball up. Even if he’s not a big velocity guy, his fastball is going to look better because of that changeup.”

LSU has hit lefties well this season, in part because their trio of lefty swingers — Greg Deichmann, Antoine Duplantis and Josh Smith — aren’t neutralized by them.

“We have lefties and righties who hit lefties well,” Smith said. “You’ve got to stay within your approach and focus on the gaps. Not try to pull everything, because the second you do that you’re going to spin off and swing through it.”

TENATIVE PITCHING PLAN

Mainieri decided Monday that freshman Eric Walker would start LSU’s second College World Series game Monday, with senior Jared Poche’ available out of the bullpen Saturday night.

In announcing the news to a group of reporters Friday, he revealed that he’s no longer so sure.

Walker threw 75 pitches in an intra-squad game on Tuesday night and felt “inordinately sore” the next day, Mainieri said.

“I’m not 100 percent sure if we’re going to be able to do that now because he might need an extra day or two of rest,” the coach added.

LSU will search for more clarity Saturday morning. Walker will do throw a modified bullpen session at a field away from TD Ameritrade Park to see how he’s feeling. That’ll also determine whether Poche’ will be available out of the bullpen against the Seminoles.

“If he feels good, he’ll start Monday night,” Mainieri said. “But if needs a couple of extra days, Poche’ will start on Monday. That’s why we need to know in the morning.”

The point of the intra-squad game was to keep Walker sharp after not getting a start in the Baton Rouge Super Regional. The freshman was certainly that, according to Mainieri, who said he took a no-hitter into the sixth inning.

However, he came to the ballpark the next day with forearm stiffness. It’s not believed to be anything serious, but if an additional day or two of rest is required, it’d change LSU’s plans.

THREE-MAN BALL

Cole Freeman playing second base with a helmet on his head. Mike Papierski chasing after fly balls in left field. Eight teammates standing around heckling the batter mercilessly.

Those were the sights and sounds of three-man ball, a staple of LSU’s day-before-the-game practice.

For those unfamiliar with the normal Thursday practice routine, Mainieri has the players divide up into teams of three and play the game instead of taking regular batting practice.

One team plays the field, one team hits — only using that side of the field, of course — and the other two teams heckle the batter. If the batter reacts, he’s called out. It’s meant as a lesson for playing in front of hostile crowds.

It’s a tradition he developed during his days at Air Force, but it’s normally reserved for the night before a big SEC series.

“I do it to keep the kids loose and having fun,” Mainieri said. “What the players don’t realize is we’re getting a lot of practice out of it, too.”

Friday marks the first time LSU has played the game in Omaha.

“The players insisted upon it,” he smiled. “It was great. That gives me the feeling that they’re loose, confident and ready to go.”

Oh, you might be wondering why it was Freeman played second base with a helmet. His three-man squad had been on a hot streak, and he decided to just stay with it. Duplantis, Smith and Brennan Breaux upset them Friday to capture the crown.

The reward: getting to watch as the rest of the team picked up all the bats, balls and equipment so the next team could begin its practice.

About James Moran 1377 Articles
James Moran was Editor of Tiger Rag from August 2018 to October 2019. He previously served as the associate editor since 2014. He is a graduate of the LSU Manship School of Journalism.

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