By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
There’s no trading in college baseball. A team’s roster, for better or worse, is its roster. There’s no adding players in season to patch up any weaknesses.
With that being said, it’s starting to feel like LSU went out and found itself a quality lefty reliever at the trade deadline.
Nick Bush has emerged in recent weeks as a reliable southpaw for Paul Mainieri to turn to out of the bullpen. He hasn’t allowed an earned run in seven appearances during Southeastern Conference play, limiting opponents to three hits in 7.2 inning with eight strikeouts.
“He’s been something that’s really exciting for me to witness,” the coach said. “He’s emerging as a real guy for us who we can count on. I’m excited about the rest of the year with him, but I’m also excited about the future. I’m talking about next year and beyond.
“I’m really happy with Nick. I think he’s a guy that’s going to play an important role for us.”
Bush, a redshirt freshman out of Georgia, hadn’t pitched in nearly two years while working his way back from Tommy John Surgery. He received a medical redshirt for the 2016 season while rehabbing his pitching elbow.
After shaking off some early-season rust, Bush has been a crucial bullpen component of late. He held Alabama down for five outs in the series finale before LSU scored in 11th inning to complete a sweep. He fired two perfect innings Sunday before LSU came back to win the rubber match in 10 innings.
Given the timing of his emergence and left handiness, there’s some uncanny parallels to what Chad Jones did late in the 2009 national championship campaign.
Jones, the star safety, rejoined the baseball team after leaving for spring football practice and made significant contributions out of the bullpen. He was utterly brilliant in two College World Series appearances, most notably in Game Three of the championship series against Texas.
“He’s just missing football ability and dreadlocks: two little things,” Mainieri laughed. “Chad gave us a real spark at the end of the 2009 season out of the bullpen. Nick is more of a pure pitcher. I think Nick can give us more innings that Chad gave us down the stretch. And I’m excited about what he might do.”
Caleb Gilbert will get the start for LSU Tuesday night against South Alabama, Mainieri said, but the Tigers will use “several” pitchers and stay with the Johnny Wholestaff approach its utilized since moving Zack Hess to the bullpen.
The South Alabama game stands between LSU and a pivotal Thursday-Saturday series against SEC West rival Auburn.
And while most of the headlines center around LSU’s late-season push for the SEC crown — the Tigers are presently one game behind Mississippi State and Florida for the conference lead with six games remaining — they’ll first need to deal with a team that comes into Alex Box Stadium looking to validate its own NCAA Tournament credentials.
“I’ll guarantee you tomorrow night that they’re going to play with a great deal of enthusiasm and intensity,” Mainieri said. “My job today is to get those guys focused on that game and to not think about Auburn.”
WATSON NETS LEAGUE HONOR
LSU center fielder Zach Watson was named the SEC Freshman of the Week, the league office announced Monday.
Watson batted .500 (5-for-10) with four RBI, two runs scored and a .583 on-base percentage to help LSU take two out of three games against South Carolina this weekend.
The rookie beat out an RBI infield single in to tie Sunday’s rubber match in the bottom of the eighth inning. He beat out another infield single and came around to score the game-winning run in the tenth inning. Watson also came through with a two-run single in Saturday’s 5-2 win.
LSU IN THE POLLS
The Tigers moved up one spot in three out of four major polls and stayed put in the forth. LSU remains ranked between Nos. 10-15 in all four major polls with an RPI of No. 14, which trails only Florida (4) and Kentucky (9) among SEC clubs.
Here’s where LSU stands in the polls. The previous week’s ranking are in parenthesis:
D1Baseball 11 (12)
Baseball America 15 (15)
Perfect Game 11 (12)
College Baseball Newspaper 10 (11)