It’s finally time for Nick Storz to make his highly-anticipated LSU debut — maybe.
The plan is for the heralded freshman right-hander to start Sunday against Hawaii, LSU coach Paul Mainieri announced Thursday, but that decision won’t be made until Saturday.
Mainieri actually came to the ballpark Thursday planning on starting Storz on Saturday night and moving Caleb Gilbert to Sunday, but he backed off that plan shortly before LSU hit the practice field.
“Last Friday Storz threw a bullpen, and it was a big-league caliber bullpen,” the coach said. “But then he threw a live session against hitters on Monday and he was a little bit more fatigued. This whole week he’s been struggling a little bit with some shoulder fatigue.”
LSU will instead give him two days off from throwing before having him do some side work with LSU pitching coach Alan Dunn on Saturday afternoon. If all goes well, Storz will start Sunday and pitch about two innings.
If Storz can’t start, fellow freshman Ma’Khail Hilliard will start instead. Hilliard will be the next pitcher in the game even if Storz does start. He filled a similar role last Sunday, logging four scoreless innings in relief of AJ Labas in his own debut.
This debut has been a long time coming for Storz. The New Yorker was the highest-touted member of LSU’s signing class who made it to campus, but he missed all of the fall after undergoing shoulder surgery to remove a bone spur.
“I came here in the fall with one goal, which was to contribute any way I could,” Storz said. “It was tough that I couldn’t get out there. Now that I have the opportunity to get out there, possibly on Sunday, I’m really excited for it. I can’t wait for it.”
There was a time this spring when it looked like Storz could be ready for opening day, but a minor setback cost him and extra few weeks on the shelf. Mainieri described himself as “bubbling” after watching a particularly electric bullpen session.
Both facts underscore the impetus for LSU’s cautious approach with Storz and his prized power arm.
“Everybody is excited to get on the field, especially for your freshman year,” Storz said. “You do have to control yourself and remember you have to be 100 percent healthy and make sure you’re not going to put yourself right back on the bench.”
So assuming he’s cleared to start, what can be expected of Storz? Reports of a mid-90s fastball and swing-and-miss breaking ball — not to mention his imposing 6-foot-6, 255-pound frame — have cultivated a certain amount of hype.
Zach Watson was one of the hitters who took cuts against Storz during that live session on Monday. He shared some of what he saw.
“I saw a lot of movement out of Storz’s ball,” Watson said. “Coming from a seven-foot baseball giant, it’s going to have movement, but he looked good. His off-speed looked good. His fastball looked pretty good. I’m ready to see what he can do on the field.”
LSU has had something of a revolving door at the top of the lineup since Josh Smith went down with a back injury.
Mainieri has tried five different leadoff hitters in 11 games trying to find an adequate replacement for Smith. Some, like Antoine Duplantis, did fine, but profile better elsewhere in the lineup.
Other experiments, like batting Jake Slaughter leadoff on Wednesday night, quickly proved that they weren’t worth repeating.
“That was a one-day experiment,” Mainieri replied dryly.
Mainieri said he plans to try Watson in the leadoff spot on Friday night against Hawaii. Second baseman Brandt Broussard is expected to hit second as LSU attempts to get more speed at the top of the order. Duplantis would continue to bat third.
– Lefty John Kodros will be available to make his debut out of the bullpen sometime this weekend, Mainieri said.
– Infielder Chris Reid (hamstring) was a full participant in practice on Thursday after being available only in an emergency situation on Wednesday night. He worked with the first-team infield during live drills, for what that’s worth.