The No. 8-ranked Tigers launch the new season at 6:30 p.m. Friday against Air Force and Rhymes – seven months removed from elbow reconstruction (Tommy John) surgery on his left arm is tentatively slated to be in left field.
LSU coach Paul Mainieri said the plan is for Rhymes to man left the first night, serve as the designated hitter on Saturday and then make his season debut in right field on Sunday.
“He’s made the progress he needed to and is healthy enough to be out there,” Mainieri said.
Rhymes played seven games in the outfield in 2011 but was primarily a DH. He batted .360 with 18 doubles and drove in 42 runs, splitting time in the first four spots in the batting order – primarily hitting second (32 games).
“I’m looking forward to playing outfield full-time this year because it’s something new,” Rhymes said. “Coach believes in me out there and feels like I’m athletic enough to be out there, so I’m just going to go out there and play as hard as I can.”
With Rhymes’ arm still likely to be a bit rigid, Mainieri said they have adjusted and will use a middle infielder as a relay man anytime a ball is hit his way.
Rhymes’ status will have a ripple effect on other spots on the field, at least in the early part of the season.
Sophomore Jackson Slaid will likely DH Friday and then start in left field the other two games against Air Force. Mason Katz is slated to be in right for the first two games and then shift to first base for the finale. Senior Grant Dozar is expected to get the opening-night nod at first base, with promising freshman Tyler Moore there on Saturday, and both are in contention for DH time as well.
“I may not play same nine guys every day in some of the early games to try and get other guys involved,” Mainieri said. “A lot of guys have had really good springs, and I want to give them the chance to show what they can do.”
Foster poised to contribute
Mainieri said freshman Jared Foster’s decision to give up his walk-on spot on the LSU football team to focus on the diamond could benefit him and the Tigers,
Foster was a two-year starter at Barbe and as a senior he batted .371 with nine home runs, 33 RBIs and 15 steals.
“This kid felt like his best chance of having a good college career was going to be in the sport of baseball,” Mainieri said. “So I talked to Les (Miles) and he had no problem him focusing on baseball.”
Like the last few football players who have juggled both sports, Foster’s athletic ability serves him well. Mainieri said Foster will be a backup in the outfield, but could also get some time at second base – the spot he manned in high school.
“He’s a very good athlete, he’s strong and fast and he’s a competitor,” Mainieri said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets some playing time as things get going.”
Freshman pitcher out indefinitely
Carson Baranik’s college career is on hold after he was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence last weekend.
The freshman from Parkway High in Bossier City is still on the roster but suspended indefinitely, Mainieri said.
“He has a lengthy period of time away from the team and he’ll have a lot to get through before we’ll welcome him back,” Mainieri said of the hard-throwing 6-foot-2, 190-pound right-hander. “When he is reinstated, he’ll probably be suspended from competition for the rest of the year, but that’s still to be determined.”
As a senior at Parkway, Baranik was 4-1 with 57 strikeouts and 1.70 ERA in 37 innings. He was slotted to be a middle reliever as the season began.
“It’s a shame because he had worked his way into the mix and was really improving,” Mainieri said. “He could’ve been a guy who might’ve received a fair amount of innings.
“I don’t want to discard the team. He’s a young man we all think a lot about. He does have to understand, though, that there are some ramifications for actions that are not appropriate.”
The LSU coach had talked about juggling the days among the three sophomores like he did at the start of last season, but decided against it after McCune grappled with a bout of mono during the fall semester.
“We want to get these guys comfortable in their roles and not have to worry about Kurt needing another day of rest of having to scratch him,” Mainieri said. “We feel like all three of them are Friday-night caliber guys, so it doesn’t matter what the order is.”
All three starters are likely to be limited to 5-6 innings in their first starts.