If the season started today, Todd Peterson would be in line to be LSU’s Sunday starter.
LSU coach Paul Mainieri said as much in his state of the program address at LSU Media Day on Friday afternoon. There’s three weeks to go until Opening Night, but the sophomore is presently slotted to follow rotation locks Caleb Gilbert and Zack Hess.
“You remember, I was really high on Todd Peterson last year,” Mainieri said. “He had a couple of unfortunate things happen that kind of had his season come to a screeching halt.”
Some of those setbacks were of his own doing. He was tapped to start the Southeastern Conference Tournament opener only to get himself suspended for a violation of team rules the night before the game.
Peterson also would’ve started the first game of the College World Series Finals against Florida, Mainieri said, were it not for a fatigued shoulder. Instead LSU turned to Russell Reynolds and eventually got swept.
But the sophomore worked himself into better shape over the summer — coaches pointed to being out of shape as the root cause of his arm fatigue — and looked sharp during fall practices, setting himself up for a bigger role this season.
“For me, he’s a very critical part of our pitching staff,” LSU pitching coach Alan Dunn said. “He’s got size. He’s got three pitches. He’s a strike thrower and he’s got good poise on the mound. That’s the start of a pretty good starting pitcher and his fall was really solid.”
Dunn has already seen the results of Peterson’s offseason work in the gym. He’s noticed more energy during workouts as well as good results when the sophomore right-hander has stepped on the mound during bullpen sessions.
The Florida native 22 games (three starts), posting a 3-1 mark and a 4.19 ERA in 34.1 innings of work with 16 walks and 21 strikeouts. He’s got a chance to do a whole lot more in 2018 as LSU looks to replace the 333.2 innings logged by starters Alex Lange, Jared Poche’ and Eric Walker.
“He knows the opportunity is right there for him to take it, and he understands that,” Dunn said. “And how you get another opportunity is to go out and produce. I think he’s ready to take that next step.”
Freshman right-hander Nick Storz suffered a “slight setback” in working his way back from shoulder surgery, Mainieri said, but hasn’t been ruled out for opening weekend against Notre Dame.
Storz suffered a minor strain of his lat after taking a misstep while playing long toss earlier this week. The soreness has already subsided after treatment, the coach said, but it did cost him three days of rehab as his bullpen session was shut down early.
“We thought the prudent thing was to shut him down. He’s been treated. The soreness is all gone,” Mainieri said. “I think he’s going to throw a bullpen today. I don’t know exactly if losing those three days is going to set him back so much that he may not be able to be ready for opening weekend or what. I’m still hopeful.”
Storz’s availability for the Notre Dame series may ultimately come down to how quickly he can get himself into an intra-squad scrimmage. Neither Mainieri nor Dunn want to put a pitcher into a live game without some kind of scrimmage experience.
What complicates matters is the fact that LSU doesn’t scrimmage much once the season actually starts. That’d limit Storz to pitching in a simulated game — just pitcher and hitter, no defense — as the staff is hesitant to manufacture scrimmages once the season begins.
Storz missed the entire fall after undergoing surgery to remove a bone spur, meaning LSU has yet to see him in a game situation on the mound.
“Since he missed the fall, I’m really hopeful that by that last weekend or that Tuesday before the first game that he will have the opportunity to pitch in an intra-squad scrimmage,” Mainieri said. “If that happens, then he could very well be ready to pitch against Notre Dame out of the bullpen. If that doesn’t happen, then we will have to schedule simulated games and it may delay our using him in a game a little bit longer.”
LSU is having Storz focus exclusively on pitching after some talk this fall about letting him hit in a pinch hitting or designated hitter capacity.
The Brooklyn native has exceptional raw power, but LSU is putting his hitting on the shelf until further notice as the need for a power arm much exceeds the need for another bat off the bench at this juncture.
“I can’t tell you how excited I am about getting this guy on the mound,” Mainieri said. “Wait until you see this guy. That’s what they look like, if you know what I mean … This guy is special. The sooner you get to see what makes him special once that ball leaves his hand, the happier I’ll be.”