Off a loss, Tigers look to rebound against Sacramento State
By JAMES MORAN
Tiger Rag Associate Editor
Jared Poche’ won’t be the only ‘SEC-caliber’ southpaw towing the rubber at Alex Box Stadium as LSU opens up a three-game series Friday night.
Looking to ensure a walk-fueled defeat to Lamar doesn’t morph into a losing streak, the LSU co-ace will lock horns with Sacramento State’s Sam Long, a hard-throwing lefty who Paul Mainieri says is the closest thing his team has seen thus far to the kind of pitching they’ll see once conference play arrives.
“If you look forward to SEC weekends, that’s the kind of guy you’re going to get,” Poche’ (0-0, 2.70 ERA) said of his Friday-night adversary. “Guys that light up the radar guy a little bit. Good power arms who are going to compete and fill up the zone. That’s the job of a pitcher. Hopefully we can outmatch him.”
Long (0-1, 4.50 ERA), who took the loss in State’s season-opener against Auburn, features a tailing fastball that sits 88-92 mph along with a swing-and-miss changeup and a breaking ball. The junior pitched to a 2.81 ERA and 0.85 WHIP in 89. 2 innings last season.
“I think we’re going to do just fine,” third baseman O’Neal Lochridge said. “We’ve been facing (Alex) Lange and Poche’ all fall and spring, so it’s just like another scrimmage to us. We’ve just got to play our game and relax, understand we’re capable of hitting him.”
He continued: “They keep saying he’s going to have some arm-side run in the high-80s, low-90s. That’s what we’ve been working on with the machine, some arm-side run with quick speeds. Shorten our swings and drive the ball the other way.”
Knowing the matchup, Mainieri announced he’ll go with the righty-heavy lineup that produced 12 runs and four long balls Sunday against Cincinnati. Jordan Romero will catch, Bryce Jordan will play first base in place of Greg Deichmann and Bryce Adams will again slide in as the designated hitter.
“I want to take a good look at Adams and Romero against a good-looking lefty like this,” Mainieri said. “I just want to see if we can find a niche for Adams, or even Romero, and if they can give us some quality at-bats against this guy, an SEC-caliber lefty. It’ll be a good challenge.”
Michael Papierski remains LSU’s primary catcher — he’ll start behind the plate Saturday and Sunday — but the opportunity get Romero’s bat into the lineup against a lefty earned him the Friday night nod.
It’ll be the first time the former Catholic High backstop handles Poche’ in a real game, but neither felt that report would be an issue come Friday night.
“I feel pretty comfortable catching him,” Romero said. “I caught his bullpen and I caught him a bunch in the fall. In JUCO we had a pretty good lefty similar to him, so I’m used to that kind of stuff.”
The weekend trio of Poche’, Alex Lange (1-0, 0.00 ERA) and lefty John Valek (1-0, 3.18 ERA) held serve in LSU’s opening-weekend sweep of Cincinnati.
Repeating that success won’t be a cake walk against a Sacramento State club that won two out of three at Auburn last weekend and defeated Northwestern State 4-2 in Natchitoches on Wednesday night before coming to Baton Rouge to round out a seven-game tour of the southeast.
Mainieri said he doesn’t want to extend any of his starters beyond 100 pitches during the per-conference slate, meaning LSU will almost certainly needs its bullpen at some point this weekend.
And whenever they do, the relievers coming on must do a better job of commanding the fastball. So far this season, the three weekend starters have issued six walks (one intentional) and hit on pitch in 19 innings while the rest of the staff has walked 14 and hit four in 20 frames.
According to Alan Dunn, the only answer is better execution.
“You give up eight walks and four hit batters, you’re not going to win many games,” Dunn said. “That’s no secret. The pitching staff knows it. We have to be better than that to win the game. You can’t keep your team in the game when you do those things, and we need to be better than that.”
First pitch is scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday night
NEWS AND NOTES
– Jesse Stallings elaborated on the dish washing incident that caused him to get five stitches on his pinky finger and miss Wednesday night’s game. With just a glass and a spoon left to rinse, he reached a spone into the glass and turned his hand. The glass shattered and sliced his right pinky finger. Sporting a bandaid on the injured digit, the hard-throwing reliever said he “should” be able to pitch this weekend pending a bullpen session Thursday afternoon.
– Mainieri said Austin Bain will start next Wednesday’s midweek trip to Nicholls State. He also had this to say of the right-hander’s outing against Lamar:
“I thought him walking the batter with two outs after we scored eight runs in the inning before was really a very pivotal thing in the game. It gave them life, and then of course the next kid hit the two-run homer. Those are the things he’s got to improve upon. For us to beat good teams, when we get a good inning like that and get a good lead, he’s got to go out there and just shut the door. And until he does that, you can’t look at him as he’s a bona fide weekend starter in the SEC. That’s just reality. To be a weekend starter in the SEC, you’ve got to be able to shut the other team down when your team scores like that. It just shows that Austin is a work in progress. I still love the kid and think he’s got the potential to be really outstanding, I just don’t think he’s there yet.”
– Reliever Doug Norman is battling a case of strep throat but is expected to be available this weekend, Mainieri said.