Paul Mainieri claimed to know who he’s going to start when LSU opens play in the Corvallis Regional against San Diego State on Friday afternoon, but as of Tuesday, the coach isn’t yet willing to let everyone else in on his plans.
“Yes,” Mainieri replied with a wry smile when asked if he’d decided on a game on starter. “But I’m not going to tell you that!”
After bursting out laughing, Mainieri informed the gathered gaggle of reporters that he’d hold off on making any announcements until Thursday morning, when LSU is set to practice in Corvallis at Goss Field.
Pressed on the subject of a radio interview he did with SEC Network host Peter Burns earlier in the day, Mainieri did hint that the decision boils down to either ace Zack Hess or veteran lefty Nick Bush.
“That’s probably a pretty good guess then,” Mainieri said. “If I said it, you know I don’t lie. They’re both really good pitchers and I think either one would be a good option for us.”
It’s a complicated decision. For one, Mainieri can’t take No. 3 seed San Diego State as lightly as he would an automatic qualifier fourth seed in a typical home regional with LSU hosting at Alex Box Stadium.
In a perfect world, Mainieri would love to save Hess for a duel with Oregon State and ace Luke Heimlich on a full week of rest. In reality, he knows that a loss to San Diego State means a long, arduous trudge through the loser’s bracket for a pitching staff that is weary coming off six games in as many days.
“I know everybody wants to see the big showdown between Oregon State and LSU, and I hope we can deliver that,” Mainieri said. “But we have a very formidable opponent that we have to play before that. I’m certainly not taking them lightly.”
On the other hand, he doesn’t want to risk rushing Hess back on the mound and not getting him at his sharpest. He went seven innings against Arkansas on Saturday after going three innings in relief on Tuesday, which gives the coach pause about starting him on Friday night.
As for LSU’s other two starting pitchers, both of whom have been dealing with varying degrees of arm soreness, there’s some good news and some bad.
Freshman Ma’Khail Hilliard threw for the first time Tuesday since throwing 97 pitches in a start against Florida last week. Mainieri, pitching coach Alan Dunn and trainer Cory Couture monitored him closely. Expect a full update on his status before the team departs for Corvallis on Wednesday afternoon.
Fellow rookie AJ Labas, who missed all of the Southeastern Conference Tournament, threw for the first time on Monday, but Mainieri didn’t seem optimistic about what he saw.
“He did throw, but with mixed results,” Mainieri said.