In his second college start Sunday, LSU freshman pitcher Jared Poché was just one more strike away from running his scoreless streak to 13 innings.
That would have matched the 13 shutout innings that junior All-American Aaron Nola has thrown in his first two outings of the season — including seven innings of no-hit ball in Friday night’s 9-0 beating of Virginia Tech.
But when Poché couldn’t slip a third strike past Texas Southern’s Chris DeLeon with two outs in the seventh inning Sunday in Alex Box Stadium, DeLeon made him pay with a run-scoring single.
But that little blemish is the least of LSU coach Paul Mainieri’s worries after the first two weekends of the season, which ended with a 4-1 victory against Texas Southern.
When the season started, Mainieri admittedly was more concerned about his bullpen because of the loss of six top relievers from his 2013 College World Series team.
There’s no doubt the starting pitchers have done their part with only six runs allowed — four earned — in 43 innings, while the bullpen sorts itself out and gains confidence.
The latest example came Sunday when Poché worked seven strong innings. The left-hander allowed just one run on four hits with no walks and seven strikeouts before turning the game over to the bullpen.
In all, the four starters used by Mainieri have allowed 29 hits with just two walks and 31 strikeouts in the Tigers’ 7-0 start. Nola, Kyle Bouman, Cody Glenn and Poché have a combined 0.84 ERA.
“It’s been fantastic, but honestly, I expected it,” Mainieri said Sunday night. “You know, I see these kids throw and I see the work (pitching coach) Alan Dunn does with them. I was very confident they would give us solid pitching performances.”
Poché got the job done again and was nearly flawless in throwing 79 pitches — 60 for strikes.
The closest he came to being in trouble was the seventh, when Zach Howell hit a leadoff double to the gap in left-center, stole third with two outs and trotted home on DeLeon’s single.
But Poché, who was on a pitch count, finished strong with a strikeout.
“I wasn’t mad. … I was just a little upset with myself,” Poché said. “I just made a mistake and the guy took advantage of it and drove it to the outfield. I’ve got to be better than that.
“I was just fortunate enough to be able to get the next guy.”
While Mainieri obviously liked what he saw from Poché, who gave up four hits in his first start, he was just as impressed with the relievers that closed out the game — Parker Bugg, Joe Broussard and Kurt McCune.
“Our bullpen is what has really shined for me, especially those three guys at the end (Sunday),” he said. “It’s several other guys as well. We’re starting to get more and more confident that we’ll be able to finish games off.”
Yet Mainieri knows they can’t do their job if the starters don’t do theirs — which is something he hopes continues with the Southeastern Conference opener coming in three weeks.
“Obviously, we’re only seven games into the season, and we haven’t played an SEC game yet,” he said. “The competition is going to get ratcheted up big-time when we start into the SEC. But these guys have done a great job, and I expected that they would.”