by Carl DuboisOctober 16, 2009 12:18 PM
Rain kept LSU from scrimmaging Wednesday at Alex Box Stadium, so after five innings of coach-pitch baseball Thursday afternoon, the Tigers played four innings of Purple vs. Gold before calling it a day.
Pitchers, including walk-ons, took the mound for the first time since fall practice began Tuesday. They threw no breaking pitches, just fastballs and changeups, so it's too early for coach Paul Mainieri to read much into their performances.
Mainieri, who led LSU to the 2009 national championship in his third season with the Tigers, said two of the biggest questions waiting to be answered involve pitching.
-- Has Austin Ross taken it to another level?
-- Who's going to be the second starter?
Mainieri said he would love to leave Matty Ott in the closer's role, but he needs someone to earn a spot in the starting rotation to allow that to happen.
"It's easier to find a closer than it is a starting pitcher," Mainieri said. "I don't mean that to put Matty Ott's job performance from last year down, but you can get by as a closer if you're a one-pitch guy or you have one great quality about you.
"Starting pitchers, if you don't have enough it exposes you. You've got to have three good pitches. You've got to be able to field your position. You've got to be able to stop the running game. I think Ott can do all of those things. That's why I think he brings a lot to that closer's role."
Mainieri said he thinks he can find someone to be the closer, but LSU would be that much stronger if someone can win a starter's job.
Two potential candidates, Chris Matulis and Mitch Mormann, are supposed to pitch this afternoon. Paul Bourgeois, who was 12-2 at LSU Eunice last season, pitched an inning Thursday and is a possibility, Mainieri said.
Daniel Bradshaw is another possibility.
"Someone needs to be the second guy," Mainieri said.
Third base is the biggest concern in the field. Tyler Hanover moved from there to second base, a more natural fit for him.
Derek Helenihi and Michael Hollander were solid defensively in previous seasons at third base, and Mainieri said the importance of the position in college baseball is underrated. With less than an abundance of hard-throwing pitchers and a lot of right-handed batters swinging a aluminum bats, that's a recipe for pulling the ball, he said.
Mainieri said he can put Hanover back at third base and try to hide somebody at second base if necessary, but but he wants LSU to be strong throughout the infield. Wet Delatte, he said, has been playing well. Grant Dozar has swung the bat well and improved on defense, Mainieri said, but is somewhat erratic.
Beau Didier isn't ready to throw after undergoing Tommy John elbow surgery, so he can't get a look there yet.
LSU kept six walk-ons from tryouts to help with fall practice. Pitcher Forrest Garrett is unavailable after having a pin inserted in his elbow to repair a stress fracture, putting him behind schedule.
That left LSU with 15 pitchers instead of Mainieri's preference of 16, he said, so he kept three walk-on pitchers "to see if someone can give us a good look" during fall practice.
The other three walk-ons are position players. Mainieri said shortstop Manny Estrada has impressed him the most.
"There's a good chance that that kid's going to end up making the team," Mainieri said.
LSU doesn't have to declare a 35-man roster until the day before the season begins. The first game is Feb. 19 against Centenary.
There are 34 players on the roster, with two -- shortstop Mike Lowery and catcher Wes Luquette -- probably out for the year, Mainieri said. He will also have to wait until after football season to see whether Chad Jones plays baseball in 2010.
Players had varying reactions to the question of whether there is a big-picture equivalent of the 24-hour rule football coaches have, allowing a day to celebrate a victory before moving on to the next game. What kind of rule is there for baseball players coming off a national championship?
"I think it's different for different guys," Anthony Ranaudo said. "I enjoyed it all summer. I didn't play any baseball, so I didn't have to get rid of the feeling and go play summer ball with some teams and be competitive. I just kind of went home, enjoyed the time with my family.
"We're still enjoying it this fall. Not anymore, I mean. Coach Mainieri gave us a little time. He pushed fall practice back a little bit. We went to the White House, we did things with the team from last year, a couple of things, but right now we're ready to turn the page now for this year. Fall practice has started now, and we had fun, we enjoyed it for awhile, but we're ready to go now. We're ready to turn the page and start this season off."
Ranaudo said LSU has a good corps of freshman and transfer players who show a lot of promise. He said the returning players are all hard workers.
Catcher Micah Gibbs said there is good competition at all positions, which he said is a good thing. He agreed with Ranaudo about the new players showing promise, especially the freshman pitchers. Gibbs said there's more depth from top to bottom on the pitching staff.
"You don't have, like, those kind of bottom guys where you don't know how they're going to do," he said. "We're just more solid throughout the staff."
As for putting the national championship behind him, Gibbs said he did that before playing summer baseball.
"You have guys there from schools that don't really have much of a shot at getting to Omaha," Gibbs said, "so that's their national championship, to get the championship of summer ball, so those guys are really wanting you to do well for them, so you can't really take the time off and kind of bask in the glory.
"Once you get back here, it was good Coach Mainieri gave us a lot of time off before fall ball started. We did a lot of individual work, so you work on your own, but at the same time you have, like you call it, the national championship hangover. We kind of got to enjoy that a little bit, but everybody's ready to get it going again."
For old times' sake, a play-by-play blog from Thursday's scrimmage:
Trey Watkins, cf
Grant Dozar, 3b
Mason Katz, 2b
Edmond Sparks, c
Matt Gaudet, lf
Beau Didier, 1b
Alex Edward, rf
Manny Estrada, ss
Right-hander Spencer Mathews is the starting pitcher.
Leon Landry, cf
Tyler Hanover, 2b
Austin Nola, ss
Micah Gibbs, c
Mikie Mahtook, rf
Kyle Koeneman, 1b
Wet Delatte, 3b
Johnny Dishon, lf
Right-hander Joey Bourgeois (LSU Eunice) is the starting pitcher.
Pitchers aren't allowed to throw breaking balls -- only fastballs and change-ups. Pitchers get one inning of work each. Will Davis coaches first base. Javi Sanchez coaches third base.
TOP OF THE FIRST
Trey Watkins struck out looking. Grant Dozar drove a ground-rule double to the deepest part of right-center field, almost straightaway. Mason Katz made the second out on a fly to center field. Edmond Sparks was hit by a pitch. Matt Gaudet hit a fly to right field for the third out. GOLD 0, PURPLE COMING TO BAT.
BOTTOM OF THE FIRST
Leon Landry grounded out, first base to pitcher. Tyler Hanover lined a single to right field, near the line. Austin Nola lined a hit-and-run single to right field, putting runners on the corners. Micah Gibbs, batting left-handed against right-handed pitching, drilled a one-hopper that got past a flinching Mason Katz on his glove side at second base, driving in a run and putting runners on first and second.
"Welcome to college baseball, Katz," Mainieri said.
Mike Mahtook doubled to deep right-center, almost exactly where Dozar's double landed. Hanover scored, and Gibbs held at third. Kyle Koeneman struck out swinging. Wet Delatte walked to load the bases. Johnny Dishon singled up the middle to drive in two runs. Mainieri called it an inning with two outs. PURPLE 4, GOLD 0.
TOP OF THE SECOND
Right-hander Blake Breaux replaced Bourgeois on the mound. Beau Didier led off with a double off the wall in right field. Alex Edward walked. With the lights coming on in late afternoon on an overcast day, Manny Estrada walked to load the bases.
Matt Furey walked to force in a run. Watkins struck out for the first out, but Mainieri called it a half inning. PURPLE 4, GOLD 1.
BOTTOM OF THE SECOND
Right-hander Mike Reed replaced Mathews on the mound. Florey replaced Estrada at shortstop. Landry walked and stole second base on the first pitch to Hanover. Hanover lined out to center field. Nola hit a hard smash between third and shortstop, and Dozar made a good play to stop it, but that's all he could do, leaving runners on first and second. Gibbs, still batting left-handed, watched as Landry tried to steal third base. The throw beat him, but the umpire called a balk. That put runners at second and third. Gibbs grounded out to first base, driving in a run and putting Nola at third. Mahtook made the third out on a fly to center. PURPLE 5, GOLD 1.
TOP OF THE THIRD
Zach LaSuzzo replaced Breaux on the mound. Dozar was hit by a pitch. Katz singled up the middle to put runners at first and second. Sparks hit a ground ball to second base, and Hanover flipped to Nola for the force. Everyone else was safe, with no throw to first, leaving runners on the corners. Gaudet walked to load the bases. Didier walked to force in a run. Edward struck out. Furey walked to force in a run, and Mainieri called it a half inning. PURPLE 5, GOLD 3.
BOTTOM OF THE THIRD
Left-hander Jordan Rittiner replaced Reed on the mound. Koeneman singled to right field. Delatte doubled down the left field line for a 6-3 lead. Dishon singled up the middle for a 7-3 lead. Dishon stole second base. Landry singled to right field for an 8-3 lead. Hanover singled along the line in right field to put runners on first and second. Nola grounded out to second base. Delatte pinch-ran at second base. Gibbs, batting right-handed, took a called third strike. Mahtook grounded out to third. PURPLE 8, GOLD 3.
TOP OF THE FOURTH
Left-hander Michael Turnbull replaced LaSuzzo on the mound. Watkins walked. Dozar watched him steal second and third before striking out. The infield came in with Katz at bat. He lined out deep to right field, with Mahtook catching it just before the warning track. Watkins scored. Sparks hit a pop-up to second base for the third out. PURPLE 8, GOLD 4.
BOTTOM OF THE FOURTH
Left-hander Chris Cotton replaced Rittiner on the mound. Koeneman made the first out on a fly to center field. Delatte tripled to right-center. He scored on a pitch that got past the catcher, but Mainieri sent him back to third base for situational purposes. Dishon hit a pop-up to first base for the second out. Landry made the last out on a foul pop-up to third base. PURPLE 8, GOLD 4.
GOLD: 4 runs, 3 hits, 0 errors.
PURPLE: 8 runs, 10 hits, 0 errors.
Carl Dubois has written or blogged about LSU sports since 1999. He wore his Norman Rockwell baseball shirt to practice because chicks not only dig the longball, they dig that shirt. Alas, nobody commented on it or touched it, a disappointing first. You can contact him at carl1061 'at' gmail.com.
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