Paul Mainieri remains mum on opening weekend rotation

LSU skipper high on John Valek 

Every LSU baseball media session in the run-up to Opening Night begins with Paul Mainieri fielding the same question: who will get the ball on when Cincinnati comes to town on Feb. 19?

“Jared Poche’ … Or Alex Lange,” Mainieri said with a hearty chuckle.

That answer to that question — as well as the rest of the four-man opening week rotation behind the well-established big two — should become clear sooner rather than later.

Mainieri said Wednesday he plans to meet with pitching coach Alan Dunn in the coming days and settle on a plan by the weekend.

And while right-handers Austin Bain and Riley Smith began spring camp as the favorites to slide into those third and fourth rotation spots, Mainieri strongly hinted that soft-tossing lefty John Valek, a senior transfer from Akron, has pitched himself into the mix.

“If you just simply go by results, John Valek deserves to be in there,” Mainieri said. “He’s pitched as well as anybody has since he’s been on this campus, honestly. What you have to do is project down the road — can he win in the SEC? He’s got the stuff to beat people. The question is whether or not he can beat the top teams in the SEC.”

As always, health will factor into Mainieri and Dunn’s decision. Mainieri announced Wednesday that Smith, a hard-throwing JUCO transfer, has been dealing with a sore shoulder that’ll keep him sidelined for the final weekend of the preseason. He’s scheduled to see a doctor Thursday.

“We don’t think it’s anything too dramatic, but it’s certainly going to keep him out of this weekend,” Mainieri said. “We’ll see how bad it is. It might just be a thing that needs a couple days rest. Our trainer doesn’t think it’s anything too serious. Maybe just some muscle fatigue or a strain or something like that.”

Whoever wins up starting the season’s first four games won’t pitch longer than five innings the first time around, Mainieri said.

INJURY NEWS

– DH Bryce Jordan has been cleared to resume running the bases in scrimmages and practice, though he continues to wear a brace on his surgically-repaired knee.

– Sophomore left-hander Jake Latz has still not resumed throwing, Mainieri said. He was scheduled to begin playing catch Monday, but LSU is waiting on Latz’s personal doctor in Detroit to sign off on his test results.

– Sidewinding right-hander Collin Strall will miss at least opening weekend with soreness in his throwing shoulder, Mainieri said. Strall, who hasn’t pitched yet this spring, was spotting having a light catch in the outfield before practice Wednesday.

NOTES

– While he’s yet to reach a final decision, Mainieri says he’s “leaning” toward allowing new assistant coach Nolan Cain coach third base on opening weekend. Mainieri strongly hinted last week that he’d be handling the duties himself but has had something of a change of heart citing Cain’s improvement.

– In addition to getting healthier, Mainieri says Bryce Jordan pulled even with LSU-Eunice transfer Jordan Romero for the backup catcher job behind Mike Papierski. Should he win the battle and catch once a week, it’d free up the DH spot for his brother, Beau, and allow Mainieri to insert a quicker outfielder like true freshmen Brennan Breaux or Brody Wofford in left field.

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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