Change may be coming to the LSU weekend rotation.
LSU coach Paul Mainieri strongly hinted as much Monday, though he declined to speak to any specifics or commit to any changes for this weekend’s series against Tennessee until Thursday.
“We’re talking about that right now,” Mainieri said. “I won’t have any announcement until Thursday of course, but it’s something we’re addressing.”
Those words carry an ominous ring for junior right-hander Caleb Gilbert, who is coming off the worst outing of what’s been an up-and-down season.
Gilbert failed to get out of the first inning in a 9-2 loss to Texas A&M on Friday night. The Aggies tagged him for five runs on six hits before Gilbert gave way to the bullpen just two outs into his start. He’s 3-3 this season with a 4.89 ERA and opponents are hitting a robust .338 against the right-hander.
There’s a number of different options on the table if Mainieri opts to make a change. The simplest would be flip-flopping Gilbert and No. 3 starter Ma’Khail Hilliard, who is 6-2 and leads the Southeastern Conference with a 1.34 ERA.
More drastic options would include dropping Gilbert from the rotation all together. For what it’s worth, Mainieri announced that AJ Labas would make his customary midweek start as LSU hosts Louisiana Tech at Alex Box Stadium on Tuesday night.
Keep an eye on how deep into the game Labas is allowed to pitch. A quicker hook than normal could signal that LSU has designs on him playing a greater role this weekend.
It was a relief for all involved to see Josh Smith taking ground balls on the left side of the infield before LSU began practice on Monday.
Smith has been ramping up his workouts since being medically cleared to resume baseball activities. He’s been out since opening weekend after being diagnosed with a stress reaction on his vertebrate back in February.
“We’ll just have to play it by ear and see how he reacts to the workout,” Mainieri said. “We’ll see how the week progresses.”
The plan now is for Smith to take at-bats against live pitching sometime this week, provided he continues to feel fine as the workouts intensify. He began hitting off a tee last week and made the trip to College Station with the team as he continued to work his way back.
Smith has been taking ground balls at both shortstop and third base in the past week, Mainieri said, and LSU hasn’t yet made a decision on where he’ll place once he returns to the lineup.
“I don’t even have any idea yet what I’d do there,” Mainieri said. “There would be other factors to be taken into consideration other than the players that are at those positions. Who is going to play first, for example? We don’t have a lot of options.”
Freshman Hal Hughes has started every game at shortstop since Smith went on the shelf while Chris Reid and Jake Slaughter have split time at third base. Slaughter may see increased time at first base while Bryce Jordan works his way back from a bone bruise.
MORE INJURY UPDATES
Wednesday will mark two weeks since second baseman Brandt Broussard had surgery on his broken left thumb, an injury that typically takes 3-to-5 weeks to recover from.
The current timetable calls for doctors to remove the splint from Broussard’s hand and allow him to move the thumb for the first time since the injury occurred during the Vanderbilt series
“Then it’s just going to be a matter of how long it takes for him to get the flexibility back and not have the pain,” Mainieri said. “I don’t know if he’ll be one more week after that or three more weeks. We just don’t know.”
Freshman right-hander Nick Storz (shoulder) will be re-assessed Monday, Mainieri said, and could resume throwing if everything checks out.
Storz has only pitched one inning for LSU since undergoing shoulder surgery last fall. He hasn’t thrown since that outing after feeling additional shoulder pain in the days that followed his start against Tulane on March 21.
LSU IN THE POLLS
LSU dropped in each of the four major polls after losing a series on the road against Texas A&M, but Mainieri admitted to being pleasantly surprised that LSU remains ranked in each top 25.
Here’s how LSU fared in all four polls. As always, last week’s rankings are in parenthesis:
D1Baseball 23 (17)
Baseball America 19 (17)
Perfect Game 22 (18)
Collegiate Baseball 23 (21)