Alex Lange tapped to start series opener
By JAMES MORAN
Tiger Rag Associate Editor
Paul Mainieri tapped ace Alex Lange to start the first Friday-night series-opener of his LSU career, but the right-hander must pass a different kind of test before he can turn his attention to visiting Arkansas.
Specifically, a finance exam set for 10 a.m. Friday morning. Lange also took a final the Saturday morning before outdueling Tanner Houck and Missouri at Alex Box Stadium last season.
“Last year’s was 7:30 (a.m.), though, so it’s a little better than that,” Lange grinned. “I’ll be done by the time I have to start any pre-start ritual.”
Mainieri’s previous attempts at elevating Lange to the front of the rotation have been stymied by Mother Nature, but given the sophomore’s recent surge — plus a pristine forecast for the weekend — the coach felt it important to get off to the best start possible after back-to-back series defeats.
It’ll be the third time Lange opens a series this season. The previous two were losses to Alabama and Auburn in the afternoon portions of double headers.
“I’ve been wanting to put him on Friday night all year,” Mainieri said. “I just think that Lange has found his groove now. He’s back to throwing with command, and he’s just so confident out there that I feel he has the best chance to go out and dominate a game.”
Lange (5-3, 4.05 ERA) comes into the weekend having twirled back-to-back complete against Mississippi State and Ole Miss. He’s allowed just three earned runs — all of which came on first-inning home runs — while striking out 14.
Pitching coach Alan Dunn and Lange both pointed the improved fastball command as the root cause of Lange’s resurgence, and the numbers their claim. Lange has issued just one free pass in each of his complete-game after walking 5.2 batters per nine innings over his first nine starts of the season.
“It’s fastball command,” Dunn said. “Let’s use his last two outs, he’s been very good. And when you combine that command with the stuff we know he has, you have a chance to go deep in the game and a chance to win.”
Lefty Jared Poche’ (5-4, 3.62 ERA) will start Saturday — Mainieri emphasized the flip flop with Lange “wasn’t a demotion” — but Mainieri declined to name a starter for Sunday’s series finale. He’ll instead make a decision after Saturday’s game depending on who he’d used in the first two.
John Valek III (6-2, 4.36 ERA) has been LSU’s third starter all season, but he’s been unable to get past the third inning in his last two starts. Mainieri said starting Valek Sunday is a possibility. He also left the door open to using left-hander in relief in the first two games, though he said he hoped he wouldn’t have to.
While he wouldn’t completely rule it out, Mainieri said it’s unlikely he’d start a pitcher on Sunday who pitched in relief on Friday in any capacity. He declined to mention any other possible Sunday starters in order to keep his options open as far as who can come out of the bullpen on Friday or Saturday night.