Without a definitive starter six weeks into the conference season, LSU trotted out freshman reliever Alden Cartwright for his second career start, his first coming earlier in the week against Southern Miss. Paul Mainieri hoped to get at least two strong innings, maybe three, out of Cartwright before piecing it together the rest of the way.
The freshman from Runnels in Baton Rouge has been a pleasant surprise in his first season on campus, ranking fourth amongst relievers with a 1.74 ERA and 18 strikeouts compared to just three walks in 20 2/3 innings.
"I've been impressed with Alden Cartwright since the first day of fall practice," Mainieri said.
But Mainieri isn't yet ready to permanently pencil Cartwright into the weekend rotation. That isn't a knock against him though, more of a testament to his value out of the bullpen.
"We're going to take it one game at a time," Mainieri said. "If I need to use Cartwright on Friday or Saturday, we'll use him then. I won't name a Sunday starter until after the game Saturday."
BOUMAN TO GET ANOTHER SHOT
Part of Mainieri's uncertainty about the weekend also has to do with the fact he hasn't given up on Kyle Bouman, even though his most recent outing left a lot to be desired.
Bouman last pitched in the series finale against Arkansas, in which he surrendered four runs on three hits with a walk in only one inning of work. That was his first start since returning from injury, and Mainieri said Bouman's pitching style left him susceptible to the day's windy conditions.
Bouman will get that chance Tuesday as he's scheduled to start against Tulane. Mainieri will hope to see Bouman resemble the form that originally earned him a spot in the weekend rotation.
"It's his game," Mainieri said. "He's got a chance to pitch for a while if he's pitching well."
Mainieri also expects Tulane's best effort, which should provide a good test for Bouman to gauge where he is against legitimate competition. The Green Wave will be going for a sweep in the season series between these two in-state rivals after taking the first meeting, 3-2, on March 25.
Tulane held nothing back in that one, using their closer for four innings to secure the win. They'll have a similar strategy in this meeting as the Green Wave are scheduled to start Tyler Mapes, their No. 1 starter.
"I'm sure we're going to get their very best shot, but our players will be ready to play," Mainieri said. "They're excited about playing these guys again. The fact that it's Tulane and they beat us earlier this year, all that stuff adds to the motivation a little bit."
CHANGES COMING TO THE LINEUP?
LSU's lineup Saturday featured a much different look.
Andrew Stevenson entered the leadoff spot for the third time this year, with freshman Jake Fraley hitting third ahead of Sean McMullen and Tyler Moore. Mainieri was looking for a spark after getting just one run on seven hits in the previous game.
And facing a right-handed pitcher with a hard cutter that breaks away from righties, Mainieri wanted to stack the lineup with lefties.
"I wanted to try something different, so I stacked five left-handed hitters in a row right out of the gate," Mainieri said. "We only scored two runs, and we didn't have a boatload of hits, but I thought the first two times through the lineup, those lefties really provided some trouble for him."
Fans have been pining to get Stevenson's team-best batting average to the top of the lineup, with McMullen moving into a more RBI-friendly position. And although the results weren't exactly eye-opening — LSU scored two runs on five hits Sunday — Mainieri did see enough to consider making these more permanent changes.
"There was some moderate success to it, and it gives me some thought going forward that we might," Mainieri said. "But I'm not 100 percent sure at this point."
---Conner Hale may have a new favorite baseball stadium in the SEC. Hale was named the Conference Player of the Week after hitting .625 (5-for-8) with a double, home run and five runs scored against Ole Miss. Of the seven runs LSU recorded this past weekend, Hale accounted for five of them.
---Senior reliever Kurt McCune had a big weekend as well in Oxford. He made two appearances against the Rebels, earning the save both times. He didn't allow a run in two innings of work, with just one hit and one walk.
"If I would've told y'all before we went that Kurt McCune would save two games for us at Ole Miss," Mainieri said, "I bet you not many of you would've believed me."
---LSU's now a consensus Top 10 team according to all five major polls. The Tigers moved up two spots to No. 6 in both the NCBWA and Perfect Game rankings. LSU's also No. 6 in the USA Today Coaches' Poll.
The Tigers' biggest jumps came in the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper (four spots to No. 10) and Baseball America (three spots to No. 9) rankings.