LSU's rotation strengthens at perfect time

LSU has its postseason rotation set, and those top three starters have found their best form at the perfect time.

It took all season for LSU to find its three best starting pitchers, but the Tigers have the right combination at the perfect time.

LSU enters the postseason with a three-man rotation as good as anyone’s, and that’s an invaluable asset for the SEC and NCAA Tournament.

Jared Poché continues to be the veteran rock of the pitching staff. Alex Lange bounced back from midseason arm fatigue to win 10 games and the SEC Freshman of the Year award. Austin Bain emerged from the bullpen, overcame a brief demotion and is now pitching as well as anyone on the team.

“Our staff’s clicking on all cylinders right now,” Lange said. “Anybody we run out there, I have total confidence in.”

With LSU facing as many as five games in five days, it’s pivotal for LSU to get strong outings from its starters.

Poché will take the mound Wednesday in LSU’s first game of the SEC Tournament. Bain will follow on Thursday, and Lange will take the Tigers’ third game, whether that comes Friday or Saturday.

Paul Mainieri will still have his eyes on the NCAA Tournament in terms of keeping these guys fresh. Each one will get more than a week’s rest before that begins, but Mainieri said he still won’t push them too much in Hoover.

“We’re not going to extend these guys beyond something reasonable,” Mainieri said. “I don’t know if you’ll see them hit triple digits in pitches. It’ll be close, but certainly not much more than that if they do.”

LSU can’t be too quick to pull its starters though. The Tigers would ideally have a fourth or fifth game to play, meaning they’d have to turn to several guys out of the bullpen to piece a game together.

That’s what makes Bain such an important player for LSU in the postseason. Few teams have a legitimate third starter in its rotation. It was a question mark for LSU through most of the season, but Bain has erased any concern with his last two outings.

He’s struck out 14 batters in his last 11 2/3 innings, allowing three runs on only six hits with one walk.

“As we go into the postseason, it’s essential to have a third starter,” Mainieri said. “He threw like a seasoned veteran the other night…You could see the kid growing before your very eyes, and that gives us a lot of encouragement going into the postseason.”

It’s also nice to have a guy like Lange waiting in the wings. An ace on most staffs, Lange won’t pitch until other teams are running low on arms. LSU could even have him on the mound with a chance to go to the championship game.

He has 17 strikeouts in his last two starts, allowing just one run in each game. He’s recovered fully from that arm fatigue and bounced back well from a couple rough outings against Mississippi State and Texas A&M.

If there’s one thing you could criticize about LSU’s rotation though, it’s a lack of postseason experience. With a sophomore and two freshmen, only Poché has started a collegiate tournament game.

But Lange and Bain haven’t looked like freshmen in recent weeks, and the bigger atmosphere won’t intimidate them.

“It’s just another game,” Lange said. “The rules don’t change, the mound stays the same distance…If you try to make the game bigger than it is, that’s when you’re going to run into trouble.”

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