By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
College baseball’s longest-running one-two punch take the mound for their third (and final) opening weekend at LSU.
First up is right-handed ace Alex Lange, who has won 20 games and struck out 256 batters during his two collegiate seasons. An absolute buzz saw of a power pitcher when on his game.
He’ll again tag team with southpaw Jared Poche’, a model of slow-and-steady model of consistency and the first Tiger ever to record at least nine wins in his first three seasons. Durable and reliable, but it’s rarely pretty.
“Having those two guys is obviously one of the reasons were so optimistic about this year,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “Lange is a guy that’s capable of dominating a game. Poche’ is the wily veteran, the ultimate warrior out there. They complement each other well.”
The order has flipped a few times over the years. Friday will actually be Lange’s first Opening Night start — Poche’ started the past two — but the projected top-10 pick has never been in LSU’s rotation without the trusty lefty by his side. Poche’ spent his rookie season caddying for Aaron Nola.
“My first Opening Night, we had Nola pitching,” the ever-even-keeled Poche’ recalled. “That was the most nervous I’ve ever been before a baseball game, and I wasn’t even pitching. The last two I wasn’t even nervous at all, so I don’t know how I’ll feel tomorrow. I guess we’ll find out.”
He enters his fourth season having never been the most dominant starter in his own rotation, yet with 12 more victories Poche’ would pass Scott Schultz (38 wins, 1992-95) as the winningest pitcher in the program’s decorated history.
That’s a testament to a level of continuity rarely seen in the turnover-filled sport of college baseball. Most quality pitchers who go the college route elect to sign professional after three seasons. Poche’s decision to come back was easily the biggest surprise of LSU’s ‘Fab Four’ drafted returners.
And for a collegiate tandem to be as successful as Lange and Poche’ to stay intact heading into a third season is borderline unheard of. A tight bond has formed during that time.
“Each time we go out we’ve got a little friendly competition going,” Poche’ smiled. “If he throws nine scoreless (innings), I want to go out there and throw nine scoreless with one less hit allowed than him.”
Junior catcher Mike Papierski has been on the team for the totality of the Lange-Poche’ partnership. Behind the plate, he’s the conduit through which pitching coach Alan Dunn calls the game. Papierski caught both enough to understand what makes the contrasting hurlers tick.
“Alex doesn’t talk much before the game,” Papierski said. “He’s focused. If I see something, I’ll tell him. Jared’s a little more relaxed, but he’s still focused and ready to go.”
As far as opening weekend goes, don’t expect to see either arm overextended. Mainieri said he’ll limit Lange to “three to five” innings or 60-to-70 pitches. Poche’ and true freshmen Eric Walker, the Sunday starter, will be on pitch counts of 80-85.
Mainieri announced his lineup for Friday’s season opener against Air Force. Here it is:
- Cole Freeman (2B)
- Antoine Duplantis (CF)
- Kramer Robertson (SS)
- Greg Deichmann (RF)
- Beau Jordan (LF)
- Bryce Adams (DH)
- Jake Slaughter (1B)
- Mike Papierski (C)
- Josh Smith (3B)
Alex Lange (RHP)
DIAMOND CUTS (NEWS & NOTES)
– With Bryce Jordan out for the year (torn ACL) and Jordan Romero (ankle) ruled out for the weekend, Mainieri said he wants to take “a real look” at Bryce Adams as the designated hitter. He’s a powerful righty bat who appeared in just 13 games last season.
– Outfielder Brennan Breaux, who has been battling a sore arm, will be available this weekend, Mainieri said.
– Mainieri announced Zack Hess’ first career start has been pushed back from Tuesday to Wednesday. The right-hander will now face Hofstra in the friendly confines of Alex Box Stadium instead of starting on the road against UNO. Mainieri added it’s “likely” Hess also pitches an inning in relief on Sunday.
– Right-hander Caleb Gilbert will “probably” make the Tuesday start in Hess’ place, Mainieri said. He’s also scheduled to follow Lange on Opening Night.
Chris Blair, the Voice of the Tigers, will miss the middle game of the weekend series as he travels with the men’s basketball team to call a road contest at Alabama. Luckily, there’s a decorated relief pitcher ready in the bullpen.
Doug Thompson, LSU Baseball’s regular color commentator, will take the microphone Saturday for his play-by-play debut, Blair and Thompson confirmed. Buzzy Haydel, another former Tiger, will join Thompson in the booth to provide commentary.
Blair confirmed the Thompson-Haydel tandem will call every home baseball game that overlaps with men’s hoops until the basketball season ends in March. There are four such conflicts remaining on the schedule plus LSU’s stay in the Southeastern Conference tournament.
Long-time SID Bill Franquez will continue on as the color commentator for all road baseball games.
MILITARY APPRECIATION WEEKEND
The patriotism is brimming as LSU welcomes two service academies to the Box for Military Appreciation Weekend. Here’s a rundown of what’s planned:
Noon – Army vs. Air Force
- Pregame: Flyover by Air Force F-16s
7 p.m. – Air Force at LSU
- Pregame: Air Force Wings of Blue Parachute Team
- Ceremonial First Pitch: Brad Garafola Jr. – son of deceased East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Deputy, Brad Garafola Sr.
- National Anthem performed by the LSU Tiger Tenors
4 p.m. – Army at LSU
- Pregame: Air Force Wings of Blue Parachute Team/Cannon Demonstration by LSU ROTC
- Ceremonial First Pitch: Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards (Army West Point graduate, 1988)
- National Anthem performed by U.S. Army Sergeant Keegan Waldrop
- Top of 3rd Inning: LSU “Soldier Salute” to the cadets of the Army West Point baseball team
- 6th Inning: Recognition of Ray Reich, father of Army Major Stephen Reich, the all-time leader in pitching wins at West Point. Stephen Reich was a helicopter pilot killed during a rescue mission in Afghanistan in 2005.
- 7th Inning Stretch: Singing of God Bless America and salute to a World War II veteran
1 p.m. – Air Force at LSU
- Pregame: Air Force Wings of Blue Parachute Team/Flyover by Air Force F-16s
- Ceremonial First Pitch: Ronnie Gerald, father of deceased Baton Rouge Police Officer, Matthew Gerald
- National Anthem: United States Air Force Drum and Bugle Corps
- Top of 3rd Inning: LSU “Soldier Salute” to the cadets of the U.S. Air Force Academy baseball team
- 7th Inning Stretch: Singing of God Bless America and salute to a 25-year Air Force veteran
Baseball will be played here first tomorrow
— James Moran (@SmartestMoran) February 16, 2017