Healing up and tuning up merged at Alex Box Stadium Wednesday night, and 10th-ranked LSU handled both tasks in impression fashion against Northwestern State.
The Tigers steamrolled the Demons 13-0, getting contributions from the usual suspects and exactly what they wanted to see from a handful of pitchers with SEC play arriving in two days.
Aaron Nola was quick and efficient in his final mid-week start before joining the weekend rotation. Eight relievers followed him to the mound and combined for LSU’s seventh shutout of the season.
Raph Rhymes – one of several position players who battled a stomach virus Sunday and Monday – chased in four runs with a pair of hits. And Mason Katz showed signs of thawing out of a slum with a two-run single that punctuated a seven-run 5th inning that removed any doubt.
All eight pitchers who followed Nola to the mound after his two-inning stint are expected to be on the 27-man roster for this weekend’s SEC series against Mississippi State. Most of them pitched well with late-inning specialists Nick Rumbelow and Nick Goody both delivering dominant stints.
“This is what we needed to get ready,” said Rhymes, who would have been out of action Monday when the Tigers were scheduled to play Notre Dame before that game was rained out. “A lot of us really had a rough few days and we had to get back out here and get comfortable again.”
It didn’t take LSU (14-3) long to find its comfort zone, either.
|Aaron Nola: Two sharp IP in final tuneup before his SEC debut on Sunday|
Nola walked a hitter in the Northwestern State first – a rarity in itself, just the second free pass he’s given up in 19 innings – but nothing else.
The Tigers immediately started chipping away at the Demons (5-11) when Chris Sciambra beat out an infield single and Casey Yocom walked. Katz and Rhymes smoked ground balls to NSU shortstop Matt Burns, who fielded one and booted the second to allow Sciambra to score.
Ty Ross laid down a perfect squeeze bunt to plate Yocom for a 2-0 lead, and LSU was on its way.
Grant Dozar and Alex Edward, who made his first start of the season, punched back-to-back one-out singles to set up the inning. With one out, Yocom and Katz drew back-to-back walks to produce a 3-0 lead and Rhymes pestered Demons reliever Jamie Bittle for nine pitches before he rifled a bases-loaded single to left field for two more runs.
|Raph Rhymes: Picks up 2 more hits and 4 more RBIs to increase hit total to 25, second in the SEC.|
Rhymes, who enters the SEC campaign ranked second in the league with 25 RBIs, added his fourth RBI of the night after nearly walking on a 3-and-1 pitch but instead gave the LSU cleanup hitter a second chance by calling a strike.
There were no shortage of chances for Rhymes, Sciambra, Yocom and Katz combined to reach base safely seven times in 12 plate appearances while Rhymes was in the game.
“I just like it when the opportunity arises,” Rhymes said of coming up with runners to drive in. “I’ve got to credit the guys in front of me for getting on base.”
Sciambra continued to emerge, going 2-for-4 with two runs. After collecting only two hits in his first 18 at-bats, the freshman center field is hitting .333 (7 for 21) in the last five games.
“I know he has faith in me so I’m not nervous if I get out once or twice,” Sciambra said. “I’m not going to worry about being pulled.
|Chris Sciambra: Produced 2 hits and 2 runs from the top of the batting order|
“Every at bat is a new at-bat for me, and I really feel like I’m starting to get into the flow of it.”
That seems to describe Nola’s rapid rise in his rookie season as well.
Besides the walk, Nola was again in control. He gave up a solid single to Nick Hinojos, but didn’t seem fazed and stranded him before his night ended after throwing 31 pitches.
“It wasn’t nerve-wracking,” Nola said. “I just wanted to go out and do my job and get ready for Sunday – stay focused in like I usually do an make quality pitches.”
With the biggest start of his young career on the horizon, Nola was nonchalant about what he needs to do to get ready, saying he won’t do much out of the norm.
“I wouldn’t expect anything else coming from Aaron,” said Sciambra, who was teammates with Nola at Catholic High. “I don’t think there’s a nervous bone in his body. He just goes out there and throws strikes.”
The Tigers had inflicted plenty of damage by the time Nola’s night was over, but the offense wasn’t ready to call it a night.
LSU was a balanced blend of patience and aggressiveness, with 12 hits – seven of the nine starters had at least one, eight of the nine scored a run and the top five hitters accounted for 10 RBIs – and seven walks.
In the fifth-inning eruption, Katz and Rhymes chased home runs with hits and there were three walks, two with bases loaded.
“We just swing the bats well and that’s what we have to do consistently starting this weekend,” Rhymes said.