Aaron Nola’s mid-season break is over.
The LSU freshman pitcher is expected to return to action Wednesday, getting the start against Southern Miss in the Wally Pontiff Jr. Classic at 7 p.m. at Zephyr Field.
Nola hasn’t played in a game since April 1 when he left a dominant performance against Arkansas in the 7th inning of a 3-2 victory. He exited suddenly that day when a pain shot through his right shoulder.
Since then he has rested, taken a regiment of anti-inflammatory medicines and was diagnosed with muscle fatigue.
Last week he played catch with teammates in the outfield twice, threw an extended bullpen session on Saturday and was back at work Tuesday before third-ranked LSU’s 7-2 victory against Alcorn State.
“When I threw (Tuesday), it felt really good,” said Nola, who is 3-1 with a 3.18 ERA. “I’m at about 95%, so I’ll be good to go Sunday.”
Tigers coach Paul Mainieri said the plan is to return Nola to the weekend rotation against Alabama on Sunday.
That’s music to Nola’s ears.
“It was tough to sit and watch,” Nola said. “I’m looking forward to getting back in there.”
Preserving the memory
Baseball provides the backdrop each year for the Wally Pontiff Jr. Classic, but the motivation for the game is much deeper.
Proceeds from the game benefit charities all over the state in honor of Wally Pontiff Jr., who died from a heart abnormality in 2002 after his three-year LSU career ended.
The former Jesuit star made an impact as a player, finishing with 254 hits, 49 doubles, 20 home runs and 149 RBIs. He was also influential as a person, though, and the LSU fan base has honored him since his untimely death.
For the handful of Tigers who hail from the New Orleans area, there is a little extra-special meaning.
“I love this game,” LSU junior Mason Katz said. “I went every year when I was growing up. It’s a great thing for the fans of New Orleans who can’t always come up to see us.
“But it’s also a big deal because Wally was a great player and a great role model, the perfect description of what a student-athlete should be. It’s a great way to carry on his name. I know (Wally Pontiff Sr.) really well, and I know this game means a lot to him every year.”
The Jumbo Sports Network has picked up the game and will televise it live on Cox-4 in the Baton Rouge, Lafayette and New Orleans markets with replays at 10 p.m. Wednesday and noon Thursday on Comcast Sports Southeast.
With Rhymes out at least for Wednesday’s game with concussion symptoms after getting beaned in the middle game of the Florida series and Edward out indefinitely with a bad hamstring, junior Arby Fields got his first start in center field Tuesday. Freshman Jared Foster shifted back to left field after some misadventures in the Florida series.
Fields started 55 games in center field for Northwestern in 2010 and played there almost exclusively last season at Cypress (Calif.) College. Foster was an infielder at Barbe, and his experience playing the outfield came sporadically in summer ball. All but one of his 24 starts this season have come in the outfield.
“I decided to go with a player who is a more experienced outfielder,” Mainieri said.
There weren’t any dramatic plays Tuesday. Foster fielded three fly balls in left without an issue and Fields called him off on another. But Fields’ speed was evident as he was able to sprint into backup position on balls hit to his left and right.
“He can cover some ground out there,” said Katz, the right fielder. “He’s faster than Foster, and a lot faster than me.”
That speed will come in handy when Fields gets on base as well.
A former running back for Northwestern, Fields stole two bases in the eighth inning to help set up the Tigers’ final two runs.
“With Arby’s speed, when he gets on base it brings something to the table,” Mainieri said.
Around the horn
LSU freshman Tyler Moore drove in a pair of runs with his first successful sacrifice bunt of the season on a safety squeeze and an infield single in the 7th inning. Those 2 RBIs give him 11 this season and all of them have come in four games – 2 vs. Air Force on Feb. 19, 4 against Southern on March 20, 3 last week vs. Louisiana College and Tuesday’s pair.
Katz collected two of LSU’s eight hits Tuesday, his 13th multi-hit game of the season. His night included his 11th double, his 6th home run and his 7th stolen base, a career-high.
Austin Nola walked three times Tuesday, which matches a season-high. He has drawn a team-high 21 free passes this season. He also reached base in his two other plate appearances with a single and on an error.
Jordy Snikeris slammed the first home run of his Division I career on Tuesday after 51 plate appearances. He whacked seven long flies in his sophomore season at Texarkana (Texas) College in 2010. Snikeris became the 11th Tiger to hit a HR this season.