Spotlight on Jared Poché as LSU visits Northwestern State

Jared Poché arrived at LSU this past fall with the intention of winning a starting job in the Tigers’ Southeastern Conference weekend rotation.

The true freshman is a solid outing away from landing one.

Poché’s third start of the season Tuesday at Northwestern State might be, to this point, the biggest of his life.

Coach Paul Mainieri has made it clear that a Poché is on the cusp of landing one of the weekend starting gigs behind ace Aaron Nola. Poché might even be the leading candidate to take the No. 2 role and pitch Saturdays.

“I know he went in there motivated to try to get in a starting rotation,” said Davey Clement, Poché’s coach at Lutcher High. “He knew what kind of staff they had and what he had to do to try to get there.”

He’s done it — so far.

Poché has allowed eight hits, one run and struck out 10 in 13 innings, but he’ll likely get his toughest test Tuesday night in the bitter cold in Natchitoches.

The game time has been moved up to 3:30 p.m. The teams were originally scheduled to meet at 7 p.m.

Game time temperature is projected to be in the low 40s. There is a chance of sleet and freezing rain Tuesday morning in Natchitoches with precipitation diminishing after noon.

“It’ll definitely test the toughness, mentally and physically, of both teams,” Mainieri said.

That includes his hard-throwing lefty starter, Poché.

A day after LSU blew a six-run lead and lost 8-7 to Yale, the attention turned to the next game — on Poché and his big outing. Mainieri, though, relived some of Sunday’s head-shaking moments, a game that had LSU falling in the polls Monday.

The Tigers slipped at least two spots in each, falling out of the No. 1 ranking in Collegiate Baseball’s poll.

The coach said he’s not hitting “the panic button,” but that he was “concerned” with his bullpen and starting pitcher Cody Glenn after Sunday’s performance.

The coach said he expects more losses, especially early, this season while he tests young pitchers and position players.

LSU (9-2) didn’t pick up its second loss last year until the 20th game.

“This year, because of losing so many pitchers, in particular, and losing our catcher and second baseman … the only way we can find out who we can count on is running the players out there,” Mainieri said.

Shortstop Alex Bregman said Sunday: “I think this team will respond well. We need to play a lot better if we want to win games.”

The focus now is on Poché and a starting rotation situation that has held much of the spotlight during preseason practice and the first two-plus weeks of the season.

There’s a three-way battle between Poché, Cody Glenn and Kyle Bouman for the two weekend spots behind Nola.

Entering the final full nonconference week of the year, the situation is still somewhat uncertain.

How hazy is it?

Reliever Brady Domangue, who has struggled in two of his three appearances, could join the mix for a starting gig, Mainieri said Monday.

Domangue, who has starred the past two years at LSU-Eunice, will start Wednesday’s game against Sacred Heart.

“We’re open to all options still as we’re going forward,” Mainieri said.

Poché is the leader to take one of those starting roles.

He’ll have to survive the road and the cold — and stiffer competition. Poché’s two starts have come at Alex Box Stadium against SWAC teams.

“Going to be a little different,” Poché said. “Probably won’t have as many people there as here, but I mean, I’ll just go out there and throw strikes. Do what I’ve been doing.”

Mainieri said he and pitching coach Alan Dunn will discuss the weekend starting rotation while on the three-hour drive from Natchitoches and “come up with a plan going forward.”

If Poché keeps his pitch count Tuesday under 70, he’ll likely start against Purdue on Sunday. A 70-plus pitch count, and he’ll start next Tuesday’s game against Nicholls State, Mainieri said.

That’s all assuming he does well enough Tuesday to be in the weekend rotation come the SEC opening three-game set at Vanderbilt on March 14.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow,” Mainieri said Monday. “I don’t know if Jared’s going to throw seven innings on 50 pitches or if he’s going to throw 70 on 100 pitchers or last an inning and two-thirds.”