LSU’s prepared to start the 2015 season with a young rotation.
Paul Mainieri announced Sunday that Jared Poché, Alex Lange and Jake Godfery (in that order) will start the three games this weekend against Kansas. That’s one sophomore and two freshmen, giving LSU its youngest rotation since 2011, when the Tigers started three freshmen (Kevin Gausman, Ryan Eades and Kurt McCune) for most of the season.
LSU will use the first three weeks of the season to finalize roles for the pitchers. Mainieri plans to give each of the three already named a Friday night start to see what they’ve got. Though all three have a shot, it’ll likely be Poché or Lange to start each weekend.
These three aren’t written in stone for the weekend though. It is their job to lose, but LSU will evaluate each pitcher through the first few weeks before finalizing the rotation. Mainieri hopes to have everything set in place for the Houston College Classic (March 6-8), which takes place the weekend before SEC play starts.
Another freshman, Doug Norman, will be the “fourth man” in LSU’s rotation. He’ll start in the midweek role with a shot at landing the weekend gig depending on how things shake out. Kyle Bouman, who started 11 games last year, will open 2015 as a long reliever, though he too may work his way back into the weekend if some of the younger guys struggle.
But if all goes according to plan, it’ll be Poché, Lange and Godfery manning LSU’s weekend rotation next month.
Poché’s the old man now after starting 16 games as a freshman in 2014. According to the coaches, Poché’s continued improving in his second year, particularly with his changeup. He’s also holding his velocity better. Last year, he’d often sit in the low 90s with his fastball through the first couple innings, but he’d then drop to the mid 80s. Now he’s consistently at 90-92 mph with his fastball, and that’s an encouraging sign for the coaches.
Lange probably has the best stuff out of all of LSU’s pitchers. His fastball sits in the mid 90s and can flash up to 97-98 mph when it’s really clicking. He’s really great when he can get ahead in the count as he has three legitimate pitches he throws for strikes. He complements his fastball with a 12-6 curveball and a changeup, both sit between 85-87 mph and produce a lot of swings and misses.
Either Lange or Poché are a pretty sure bet to win the Friday night role outright.
That would leave Godfrey to likely stick in the Sunday spot, which the coaches see as a “no brainer.” He consistently sits in the low 90s with his fastball, but his sinker is his biggest strength. One coach said it’s like he’s “throwing bowling balls,” and the teams had a bear of time hitting it during scrimmages.
Another big plus for Godfrey is how well he controls the run game. He has a short stride, is quick to the plate and has a deceptive pickoff move. One coach said it’s “almost impossible to steal on him,” so LSU has high hopes for him.
As for the bullpen, Jesse Stallings will get the first crack at the closer role. He’s taken the last two years off from pitching after undergoing Tommy John surgery in high school. He’s really impressed the coaches since the fall though. He has the highest release point of any pitcher on staff and pounds the zone from that downward angle. He consistently sits 92-94 mph with the fastball and the coaches said “he never looks afraid” on the mound, a key trait for a closer.
Look for Zac Person to be his setup man. Person had the second most appearances of any pitcher on the staff last season, and now he’s poised for an even bigger role. He has a really sharp lefty curveball, and that’ll be an effective weapon for him.
The coaches have also been impressed with guys like Parker Bugg, Hunter Devall, Alden Cartwright and Austin Bain during scrimmages. Russell Reynolds continues to improve after missing the fall with injury. Colin Strall also brings that submarine release that should be a good wrinkle to use on occasion.
Jake Latz will work his way into the bullpen once he recovers from an elbow injury. He’s had some really impressive outings when healthy, but he hasn’t spent enough time on the mound for the coaches to really know what they can expect out of him.
Where LSU’s light on experience with its pitching staff, they’re rich with talent. That’s helped ease concern, but they’ll have to see what happens once the lights come on.
Though LSU goes into the season with a plan, that can all change depending on how the guys actually perform. So the evaluation process that started in the fall will continue through the first few weeks of the season while the coaches try to figure out how all the different pieces fit in the puzzle.
How LSU chose its weekend rotation
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