Notebook | Zack Hess available in relief as LSU will “throw caution to the wind” in single-elimination SEC Tournament opener

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and single elimination games mean coaching like there’s no tomorrow — because if you lose, there isn’t.

That’s the situation LSU coach Paul Mainieri finds himself in going into LSU’s Southeastern Conference Tournament opener against Mississippi State on Tuesday afternoon.

“I’m going to throw caution to the wind and do whatever gives us the best chance to win tomorrow night,” Mainieri said.

The coach dropped an intriguing hint as to what that might entail.

Mainieri initially considered starting ace Zack Hess on four-day’s rest against the Bulldogs before deciding a fully-rested Nick Bush would the better option. However, Hess is an option out of the bullpen if that’s what it takes.

“If that means using Hess out of the bullpen, we’ll use Hess out of the bullpen on Tuesday,” Mainieri said. “Just anything that we have to do to win that game on Tuesday night is essential.”

Hess hasn’t pitched out of the bullpen all season, but he was a star of last season’s College World Series run as a flame-throwing, borderline-psychotic reliever at the end of games. He pitched to a 2.51 ERA with 48 strikeouts in 32.1 across 22 relief appearances last season.

Starting has been a bit of a struggle for Hess of late — he’s pitched to a bloated 6.84 ERA over his past five starts — but getting back in that closer role, even for just one night, could be just what the doctor ordered.

“I’m good to go,” Hess said Monday when asked about his availability for Tuesday’s opener. “Arm-wise I feel great. I’m just great to get back out there.”

That’s the familiar sound of all hands on deck.

NO REST FOR THE WEARY

By all accounts it is LSU playing for its NCAA Tournament lives, but don’t tell that to Mississippi State coach Gary Henderson.

The Bulldogs plan to bring ace Konnor Pilkington back on short rest for the second straight start in order to give him the ball in Tuesday’s SEC Tournament opener against LSU. He’ll be on four day’s rest coming off a solid outing against Florida.

Pilkington (2-6, 4.30 ERA) doesn’t have the statistics representative of the caliber of pitcher he is, but there’s no secrets either way when it comes to the big lefty and LSU. Both sides are well aware what to expect.

Tuesday will mark the fifth career start for Pilkington against LSU. He’s 0-3 with a 4.09 ERA in the previous four games, all of which LSU went on to win, including a 10-1 rout at Alex Box Stadium earlier this season.

SNUBBED?

Zero LSU players were named First- or Second-Team All-SEC as the league offices announced its postseason honors on Monday afternoon.

Three Tigers did receive league honors for the season. Outfielder Daniel Cabrera and pitcher Ma’Khail Hilliard made the All-Freshman Team and Zach Watson made the All-Defense Team.

There aren’t any obvious LSU selections left off from the All-SEC clubs, but Austin Bain could make quite the case for the utility spot. Bain hit .320 with 41 RBI and led the SEC with 21 doubles while starting all around the infield defensively and closing out games out of the bullpen.

Perhaps it’s the way the ballot is formatted. There’s no 1B/2B/Closer slot, which works to Bain’s disadvantage. The senior will just have to settle for being LSU’s MVP instead.

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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