LSU bullpen to play key role in regional

Like a pair of pants, LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri has tried them all on for size — No. 3 starters, that is.

Kyle Bouman. Cody Glenn.

Alden Cartwright. Zac Person. Kurt McCune.

A few weeks ago, his No. 3 starter was so obscure that the coach began referring to him as “TBA” or to be announced.

“TBA is on the bus with us,” he’d quip before a road trip.

Recently, Mainieri has referred to his No. 3 starter by two names: Johnny Wholestaff and Jack Wholestaff.

“I love having Aaron Nola and love having Jared Poché,” Mainieri said. “Wish I had four or five starting pitchers of that caliber. But we don’t.”

The coach and his staff have pieced together Game 3s during a 29-game Southeastern Conference schedule, using a multitude of relievers and short stints from starters.

The plan hasn’t failed. The Tigers finished third in the SEC and claimed a No. 8 national seed in the NCAA tournament despite missing a set and solid No. 3 hurler.

They’ll need Johnny Wholestaff this weekend, too, at the Baton Rouge Regional. The Tigers (44-14-1) must win three games to advance to what would be a home super regional.

Mainieri has decided that Nola and Poché will pitch the first two games of the regional, Friday and Saturday. In what order is still being decided.

Either way, Mr. Wholestaff must win a regional final.

Scary thought, right? Not to some.

“I don’t think any other team is as good at piecing together a game like we are,” said Cartwright, a freshman from Runnels.

“Those guys are coming together,” Nola said.

A crunching of the numbers reveals that LSU has just as much success with Johnny Wholestaff starting as it does with Poché.

When Poché starts, LSU is 5-5 in SEC games, and that includes the SEC tournament. The Tigers have an ERA of 3.43 in those games.

And Mr. Wholestaff? LSU is 6-5-1 with an ERA of 3.55.

“The idea of changing pitchers,” Mainieri said, “can be very effective.”

If LSU wins the first two games of the regional, Bouman is likely to start the regional final, but that doesn’t mean the whole staff won’t get to pitch.

Whoever the No. 3 starter has been, he’s not lasted long. In 12 starts, he pitches an average of three innings before giving way to a host of relievers.

LSU has won some key games doing this.

There was the 2-0 win over Florida in the SEC tournament title, and then the 2-0 win at Ole Miss, a key victory in a rubber match.

Not everything was pretty, though. Arkansas scored 10 runs against Johnny Wholestaff. Tennessee and Texas A&M had nine and 10 hits, respectively.

For the most part, though, LSU has pieced together its games well.

Maybe that’s because it has been done it before.

LSU has used this philosophy for midweek games since Alan Dunn joined the team in 2011-12.

“He is a big believer in getting guys out on the mound as frequently as possible,” Mainieri said. “Certainly, your starting pitcher would pitch once a week, but if a guy wasn’t a starting pitcher, he thought they would be more effective the more frequently they got out there on the mound.”

So the Tigers began to piecemeal the midweek games. What happened? They won 34 straight midweek games.

“There’s something to this where you’re keeping the other team kind of off-balance by showing them different looks consistently,” Mainieri said.

It’s worked. And it needs to work at least one more time for LSU to advance to Omaha, Nebraska. Super regionals next weekend are a best-of-three series.

In Omaha at the College World Series, a team must win four games in a week to get to the championship series. LSU did that in Hoover last week to win the SEC title.

Omaha could be tougher. Mainieri is hoping that Bouman’s past two starts — 11 innings and six hits — weren’t just a mirage.

If Bouman emerges as a No. 3, Mr. Wholestaff would be on the move.

“If we can have a third starter and then Johnny Wholestaff,” Mainieri said, “it would be better.”

Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @DellengerAdv. For more coverage of LSU baseball, follow our Line Drives blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/linedrives/.