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LSU loaded at pitching from starters to the pen

Kristian Garic
February 13, 2019 - 1:30 pm
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In football the saying goes, defense wins championships.  In baseball, pitching beats great hitting a vast majority of the time.  LSU baseball opens their season Friday night against ULM with sky high expectations.  Rightfully so.  The Tigers should be considered the top team in the country and that’s largely because of an LSU pitching staff that’s locked and loaded from starters to relief pitchers.

The starting rotation has been set by Head Coach Paul Mainieri.  The ace of the staff and Friday night starter will be junior right hander Zack Hess.  Hess paced the Tigers staff last year with a 7 and 1 record and 3.12 ERA.  Hess features a plus fastball that he can blow by hitters, and an exploding slider that leaves hitters baffled.  Hess also added a change up to his repertoire this off-season.

Up next in the rotation is freshmen right hander Landon Marceaux, who coach Mainieri believes will eventually transform into a legit Friday night starter next year.  Marceaux was dominant at Destrehan High School.  He commands the zone with a four-pitch mix.  Marceaux was selected in the 37th round of the 2018 MLB draft by the New York Yankees.  

Rounding out the starting staff will be sophomore right hander Eric Walker.  “The Texas Ranger,” as he’s referred to, is coming off ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction (Tommy John surgery), that kept him out all of last year.  Walker had an impressive freshman campaign in 2017 posting an 8 and 2 record with a 3.48 ERA.  In the Tigers run to the CWS finals that year, Walker suffered an elbow injury in Omaha and was shut down for the remainder of the College World Series.  He’s a pitcher’s pitcher.  Walker works fast, hits spots and can frustrate opposing hitters with an average fastball and sick changeup.  Walker will be on a pitch count early in the season in order to manage soreness from not pitching at all last season.  The only concern for LSU is they do not have a left hander in the starting pitching rotation.

The Bullpen could be a big strength for the Tigers, with a lot of experienced arms. Senior Caleb Gilbert is the most experienced arm that will come out of the bullpen.  Gilbert pitched in several big games during his Tiger career.  The hard throwing right hander appeared in 71 games for LSU amassing 21 starts, and compiling a 14 and 10 record in 71 trips to the mound.  Gilbert also has five career saves to his name.  I expect Gilbert to be used in a variety of ways.  He could be a spot starter, a middle innings reliever, a set up guy or perhaps a midweek closer.

The closer is clearly going to be junior right hander Todd Peterson.  Peterson appeared in 46 games for the Tigers with six starts.  After struggling his first season and a half in Baton Rouge, Peterson finally found his niche as LSU’s closer late last season.  He features a hard fastball in the low-to-mid 90’s and a solid breaking ball.  Peterson has battled weight issues, but took control of it late last season, and could be a candidate for All SEC honors.

The Tigers continue to boast more depth in their bullpen.  Here are a couple more pitchers, who could play significant rolls:  

Junior Right hander Mathew Beck.  Like Gilbert, Beck is very versatile.  He could be a guy the Tigers call on for a long relief outing, or to eat up some innings, if the score gets out of hand. Beck could also be used as a spot starter, or be a setup man or even a closer, if Peterson falters in that role.  Again, the Tigers have options aplenty.

Sophomore right hander Ma’Khail Hilliard is yet another LSU pitcher with tremendous experience.  Hilliard might have been the glue to hold the pitching staff together last year, after Eric Walker went down.  Hilliard started 12 games last season, and appeared in 17 games, securing a 9 and 5 record with a 3.79 ERA.  He battled some shoulder soreness during the spring and fall, but according to coach Paul Mainieri, is healthy now and ready to go.  Hilliard is not a dominant fast ball thrower, but knows how to pitch and set up hitters.  His 12 to 6 curveball is devastating to hitters.  I expect LSU to use Hilliard as a possible mid-week starter or in long relief rolls.  If a starter goes down, he’s a great candidate to fill in there as well.

Sophomore Trent Vietmeier is another intriguing arm to consider.  Vietmeier is a hard throwing right hander that Paul Mainieiri can use out of the pen to get favorable matchups.  Vietmeier will be called up to get the Tigers 1 or 2 batters in a game, then hand it off to the setup guy or closer.  I could also see LSU using Trent, if they are on the wrong end of a lopsided score, to eat up some innings.  

 

Last, but certainly not least, is sophomore right hander Devin Fontenot.  The Woodlands, Texas product appeared in 29 games last season as a true freshmank with a 3 and 1 record and a 6.18 ERA.  Fontenot is a strike thrower.  He’s not going to blow a lot hitters away, but he’ll rely on crafty pitching and hitting his spots.

Okay, now exhale.  I just rattled off a lot of information.  In short, the LSU Baseball Tigers have the deepest top to bottom staff they’ve ever had under Mainieiri.  That’s not a guarantee to make it to the College World Series final, but it goes a long way in trying to get there.  Go back and look at the national champions in the past decade.  The common denominator is a legit Friday night starter and a strong bullpen.  The Tigers check both boxes.  LSU has the depth to pitch their way through a grueling SEC Regional, or Super Regional tournament.  Most staffs around the country cannot rival the experience LSU will bring to the mound.

Grip it and rip, LSU baseball is finally here!  The Tigers open the season Friday night against ULM, followed by Army and Air force on Saturday and Sunday.  Can’t wait!  

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