Tiger freshman Aaron Nola has started the first two Sunday games against SEC opposition and – after a rocky first inning vs. Mississippi State – has thrown well, allowing four runs in the last 12.1 innings.
LSU coach Paul Mainieri said he wants to have Nola available Friday and Saturday out of the bullpen, though, with an eye on winning one game at a time if possible against the No. 3-ranked Razorbacks (22-3, 5-1 SEC).
"We want to leave the possibility open of using Nola out of the bullpen," Mainieri said.
That notion is reminiscent of how Mainieri utilized Louis Coleman in 2009 and Jared Bradford in 2008 – as a late-inning reliever early in weekends and the starter on Sunday.
Should that situation arise, the teammate who knows Nola better than anyone sees some similarities.
"He's so young right now, but he's definitely shown some signs of looking like Louis," said LSU shortstop Austin Nola, Aaron's older brother. "The way they throw and get good movement is very similar. (Aaron Nola) needs to mature and develop more competitiveness, but that takes time. Louis went through a lot of rough patches and kept competing and that's something Aaron is going to have to learn to do."
The younger Nola showed his big brother and teammates some of that against Mississippi State.
After allowing five hits on five runs in the first inning, he shrugged off that beginning and allowed just one unearned run in the last five frames.
"That showed a lot to me about the kind of pitcher he is and what he's going to be – the way he battled back from that," Austin Nola said.
Arkansas' Friday starter is no stranger to the Tigers.
Junior DJ Baxendale has appeared in four games vs. LSU – all three out of the bullpen when he was a freshman and last year as the opening-game starter. He logged five shutout innings last year, striking out seven.
"We know he's got a great slider and he's a great competitor," Mainieri said. "We have to try and get a run or two against him whenever we can."
Hot and staying that way
LSU left fielder Raph Rhymes enters the third straight SEC weekend as the league's leading hitter with a robust .479 batting average – 64 points higher than the next hitter (Auburn's Ryan Tella is hitting .415).
And a recent hot streak has given no indication that Rhymes will cool off.
Since an 0-for-2 day against Mississippi State on March 18, Rhymes has two or more hits in five of six games and is hitting at a torrid .636 clip (14 of 22). That stretch gives Rhymes 14 multi-hit games this season.
"I've been locked in before but not quite like this," said Rhymes, who also leads the SEC with a .519 on-base average and 56 hits and is tied for fifth with 28 RBIs. "I'm just going up there and trying to hit the ball hard somewhere."
Catcher Ty Ross took a foul ball off his midsection in Wednesday's 5-0 win against ULL when the ball hopped up and ricocheted off his leg and somehow missed his protective cup. Ross joked that he was trying to avoid crying and throwing up at the same time.
While discussing that injury, he revealed matching baseball-sized (and shaped) bruises on the inside of both thighs.
Despite his bruised and battered body, Ross has shown some offensive spark of late with eight hits in his last 21 at-bats to nudge his season average back up to .333.
The Tigers on the roster for this weekend are:
Position players – Ross, Jordy Snikeris, Mason Katz, Tyler Moore, Grant Dozar, JaCoby Jones, Casey Yocom, Austin Nola, Tyler Hanover, Jared Foster, Rhymes, Alex Edward, Beau Didier, Arby Fields and Jackson Slaid
Pitchers – Kevin Gausman, Ryan Eades, Aaron Nola, Kurt McCune, Nick Goody, Nick Rumbelow, Joe Broussard, Joey Bourgeois, Kevin Berry, Cody Glenn, Chris Cotton and Brent Bonvillain
Around the horn
LSU is looking for a fourth straight home series win against Arkansas. Since 2008, the Tigers have won 16 of 21 league homes series. … Since a three-game stretch when opponents scored 10 runs or more in each, the LSU pitching staff has surrendered more than runs only three times in the last 16 outings and has a 2.89 ERA in that stretch. … Katz has started to thaw out, with seven hits in his last 20 at-bats to inch his average back up to .360. He leads the Tigers with 9 doubles and 5 home runs. He has walked 14 times, but has also fanned a team-high 21 times.