LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri trotted out one of the Southeastern Conference’s top pitchers Friday night, hoping Aaron Nola could help the second-ranked Tigers take the first game of a three-game series against No. 9 Kentucky.
The only thing more comforting? Knowing he’d have another of the league’s top pitchers when Ryan Eades took the mound for LSU a day later.
LSU prevailed 11-1 on Friday night to improve to 9-1 in SEC play and run its winning streak to 10 games, but Mainieri had concerns about a team that would soon enter the hardest-hitting portion of its schedule.
Perhaps the biggest concern was who would start for him on Sundays the rest of the season.
We won’t know until Sunday whether Cody Glenn, who has struggled in recent outings, will again get the nod or if Mainieri will mix things up. Even if Mainieri does send Glenn back to the mound, it may not mean the door is closed on other Sunday options like Brent Bonvillain, Kurt McCune or even Chris Cotton, who has been stellar as the closer.
But one question Mainieri doesn’t have is who will start games for him on the first two nights of a series.
Nola entered the weekend with a 4-0 mark and a 2.74 ERA, and he ranked second in the SEC with 55 strikeouts. Eades isn’t the “ace” of the staff, but he will take the ball Saturday against Kentucky with a 6-0 record and 1.35 ERA. He pitched the first three Saturday games of LSU’s league schedule and got the win in all three.
To take a series from the Tigers, rivals of LSU know they will have to beat one of those two studs along the way.
Ask Missouri about that.
Nola and Eades helped the Tigers keep zeros on the Mizzou scoreboard for two days last weekend, picking up one win each to jump-start LSU’s second straight sweep of an SEC opponent.
Nola started that Friday night and pitched 7.2 scoreless innings, allowing five singles in a 2-0 win. He struck out 10 and walked one. Then came Eades a night later, going the first eight innings of an 8-0 shutout.
Nola again gave Eades a tough act to follow with his performance this Friday against Kentucky.
The Wildcats entered with the SEC’s fifth-best batting average, but Nola went through the lineup in order the first time he faced it. He gave up just one run on four hits in seven innings to improve to 5-0.
A key sequence for Nola in the series opener came in the fourth inning.
The usually accurate right-hander issued three walks in the frame — matching his career high for an entire game. But with LSU nursing a 1-0 lead, he found his way out of trouble.
First, he won a 10-pitch battle with A.J. Reed, who watched a curveball nibble the outside corner for strike three. Then he induced Kyle Barrett into a bases-loaded flyout.
Thanks to Nola’s latest quality outing, the Tigers had no problems taking the opening game.
Then, a day later, they can hand the ball to Eades, surely with the same confidence they had the night before.