Aaron Nola, Ryan Eades give LSU rotation stability

NWA Media photo by ANDY SHUPELSU right-hander Aaron Nola delivers a pitch during last Friday's game against Arkansas at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville, Ark. Nola (6-0, 2.47 ERA) will take the mound Friday in Tuscaloosa, Ala., when the Tigers open their three-game series with Alabama. Show caption
NWA Media photo by ANDY SHUPELSU right-hander Aaron Nola delivers a pitch during last Friday's game against Arkansas at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville, Ark. Nola (6-0, 2.47 ERA) will take the mound Friday in Tuscaloosa, Ala., when the Tigers open their three-game series with Alabama.

The LSU baseball team has a pretty good idea of what to expect from its pitching staff Friday and Saturday at Alabama.

Sunday, though, is another story.

Sophomore right-hander Aaron Nola (6-0, 2.47 ERA) will start Friday, and junior right-hander Ryan Eades (7-1, 1.97) will start Saturday, as has been the case in each of the Tigers’ five previous Southeastern Conference series.

LSU, ranked No. 2 by Collegiate Baseball, is 5-0 in SEC openers, largely because of the steadiness of Nola, and the Tigers are 4-1 on Saturdays in league play, largely because of the effectiveness of Eades, though the loss was an 8-3 setback at Arkansas last week in which Eades had his only subpar outing of the season.

“Those guys go out and compete,” shortstop Alex Bregman said Thursday. “They’re basically the same guy every time out. It’s huge to have those guys in the first two games of each series.”

Though LSU is 4-1 on Sundays, sophomore left-hander Cody Glenn (5-1, 3.47) has been inconsistent, and his availability for this week is uncertain because of a leg injury. He sustained a bruise just above his right knee when he was hit by a line drive in the fourth inning of a 5-3, 10-inning victory at Arkansas last Sunday.

“I think he’s making a lot of progress,” Tigers coach Paul Mainieri said, “but he’s still sore.”

Mainieri said he doesn’t want to start Glenn on Sunday and have to come out of the game early because his leg tightens up.

When Glenn had to leave with one out in the fourth last Sunday, the bullpen responded. Nick Rumbelow, Brent Bonvillain, Joey Bourgeois and Chris Cotton pitched a combined 6.2 scoreless innings.

“Everybody who has been called out of the bullpen has been doing their job all year,” said Bourgeois, who got the win last Sunday after pitching 2.2 perfect innings. “I think it’s going to continue the rest of the year. I think our bullpen can compete with any bullpen in the country.”

Mainieri was able to use his top four relievers, in part, because Nola threw his first career complete game Friday night.

Experience has been a key as Rumbelow is a junior and Bonvillain, Bourgeois and Cotton are seniors.

“We’re blessed that we have a lot of experienced guys who know how to handle high-pressure situations,” Bonvillain said.

Mainieri said he likely won’t choose his Sunday starter until after Saturday’s game, when he’ll re-evaluate Glenn and see what kind of shape the bullpen is in. Glenn has yet to get out of the fourth inning in three road starts against SEC opponents, compiling a 15.56 ERA compared to a 2.05 ERA in two SEC starts at home.

If Glenn doesn’t start, junior right-hander Kurt McCune — a former starter who has made three appearances since returning from a back injury — is a likely replacement. McCune threw two scoreless innings in a 4-0 victory against Grambling on Wednesday.

“It would be great,” McCune said of a possible return to the rotation. “That’s been my goal since the beginning of fall — to get a starting spot. After everything that’s happened, if I could get a starting spot, it would be very uplifting.”

The Tigers’ pitchers will face a Crimson Tide team that doesn’t have a .300 hitter in its lineup, ranks 13th in the SEC with a .250 team batting average and has hit just nine homers. LSU is second in the SEC with a .309 batting average and 31 homers.

Statistically, the teams are more evenly matched in pitching. The Tigers’ team ERA of 2.48 is third-best in the SEC, and the Tide is sixth (3.00).

LSU is playing its second consecutive road series, but has three of its last four series after this one at home.

“We tell the freshmen that you can’t get burned out,” senior first baseman Mason Katz said. “Every game is emotional. It takes a toll on you, but we all love the game enough that it really doesn’t matter.”

While the LSU football team is having its spring game at Tiger Stadium, the Crimson Tide will be having theirs inside Bryant-Denny Stadium just a few hours before the middle game of the baseball series Saturday night.

“Any time you put Alabama and LSU on the same field or court or whatever, I’ve got to think that the intensity will be pretty high,” Mainieri said. “There’s going to be a lot of enthusiasm on their campus, and I’m sure some of that is going to carry over into the baseball stadium.”

Also on Saturday, LSU pitching coach Alan Dunn and his teammates from the 1983 Alabama baseball team, which was runner-up in the College World Series, will be honored in a pregame ceremony.