Over the course of an eight-day layoff, LSU’s pitching staff has tried to prevent rust from settling in during simulated games Monday and Wednesday.
Except for junior Ryan Eades, whose four innings in last week’s super regional clincher against Oklahoma relegated him to a straightforward side session with pitching coach Alan Dunn.
Against the Sooners, Eades allowed one run on three hits before a 52-minute weather delay forced coach Paul Mainieri to insert reliever Will LaMarche in the fifth inning.
Yet Eades’ command remained spotty at moments — particularly when he called on his slider and “slurvy” breaking ball for first-pitch strikes. Only 33 of his 65 pitches were for strikes, and Eades fell behind eight of 15 batters. The Slidell native also walked two batters and hit another.
“Just not having a good feel for it,” Eades said. “I got a couple over for strikes, but I just didn’t have that consistency to get it for first-pitch strikes.”
Eades deemed Wednesday’s session the “the best one in a couple weeks” and said he’s coming close to finding elusive command of his off-speed stuff as a complement to a fastball that runs up to 94 mph.
In Wednesday’s simulated game, ace pitcher Aaron Nola — who will start against UCLA at 7 p.m. Sunday — faced four batters. LaMarche, Nick Rumbelow and closer Chris Cotton also took to the mound.
“It couldn’t have gone more perfectly,” Mainieri said. “It was good work for the pitchers. The hitters were really good seeing the ball. They were locked in, so it simulated like we played a midweek game.”
As for the rest of LSU’s rotation, Mainieri has remained mum on who will start the Tigers’ second game Tuesday. The bigger issue is what to do with sophomore left-hander Cody Glenn, who was supended for the regional round and didn’t need to start against Oklahoma. If he starts Tuesday, he’ll be on a 27-day layoff. Glenn went seven innings against Alabama in the Southeastern Conference tournament opener.
On Monday, Glenn threw an 80-pitch simulated game.
“He looked really, really good,” Mainieri said. “Just really outstanding, like he did down the stretch of the season. I didn’t think looked as good last week, when he came back from the suspension.”
By now, rare is the day when postseason honors aren’t handed out to a member of LSU’s roster.
On Wendesday, first baseman Mason Katz, pitcher Aaron Nola and shortstop Alex Bregman earned first-team All-America honors, marking the first time in program history the Tigers have had three players earn the distinction in the same season.
Katz, a senior, picked up the honor from the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association. Nola, a sophomore was named to the Baseball America and NCBWA All-America teams. Finally, Bregman, a freshman, earned the honor from Baseball America.
Katz, a native of Harahan, is hitting .366 with 14 doubles, two triples, 15 homers and 68 RBIs. He received first-team All-SEC recognition from the league coaches last month.
Nola, a right-hander from Baton Rouge, is 12-0 with a 1.68 ERA. He has 117 strikeouts in 118 innings. Nola was voted SEC Pitcher of the Year last month by the league coaches.
Bregman, a product of Albuquerque, N.M., has been named National Freshman Player of the Year by both Collegiate Baseball and by the NCBWA. He is hitting a team-best .380 this season with 18 doubles, seven triples, six homers, 52 RBIs and 16 stolen bases.
Mainieri and assistant coach Will Davis said LSU’s longer layoff hasn’t altered how they scout UCLA.
“Anytime we play a game, we’re more concerned about ourselves playing up to our capabilities than what the opponent does or doesn’t do,” Mainieri said.
So far, Davis has watched video on probable UCLA starter Adam Plutko (8-3, 2.35 ERA), a junior right-hander who was taken by Cleveland in the 11th round of the Major League Baseball draft.
Plutko, a 6-foot-3 flyball pitcher, has a fastball that tops out at 92 mph, with a slider settling in the low 80s. His changeup tends to be a strikeout pitch.
Davis has fed tidbits to LSU’s hitters, while the staff “has forumlated a plan for how we’re going to attack him.”
Even if Davis does see tendencies, he distills the information to essential tidbits, such as pitch selection in certain counts.
“We’re not big into changing too much to the pitcher,” Davis said. “We just want to do what we do, let them know what the guy does but not alter our approach. We’re going to do what’s won 57 games for us.”
Junior third baseman Christian Ibarra has endured a mini-slump at the plate, going a combined 0-for-10 with five strikeouts during LSU’s past three games.
Yet Mainieri said there wasn’t much to read into Ibarra’s recent struggles.
“Hitting comes and goes,” Mainieri said. “He’s had two really good practices in a row. We’ve really shortened up his swing, tried to get him to drive the ball through the infield. I feel like his swing was getting a little bit long because he was trying to hit the ball so hard.”
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