Zac Person will start Thursday against TCU in an elimination game for both teams. Without a solid third starter for most of this season, LSU coach Paul Mainieri has often turned to what he calls “Jack Wholestaff,” because several pitchers typically appear and throw only an inning or two at a time.
Person will get his turn to kick things off, and Mainieri said it’s possible he has an extended outing.
“I’m not sure how far we’re going to go with him,” Mainieri said. “We’ll let the game dictate it a little bit.”
This will mark the third start of Person’s LSU career. He started against Auburn this season, allowing one hit in three scoreless innings with two strikeouts.
He’s only pitched in one game since the NCAA Tournament began. He recorded the final out of the eighth inning against Louisiana-Lafayette before giving up a single and triple in the ninth. He made two appearances in the 2014 NCAA Tournament, working 1 2/3 scoreless innings.
Before Person came to LSU, he was a starter at LSU-Eunice. He’s even pitched in a World Series game before, tossing a seven-inning complete game shutout for the Bengals.
“The biggest thing is to set the tone,” Person said. “That’s what starters are made for. That’s what we’ve been so blessed with lately. They attack and show we’re going to battle, not lay down. That’s going to be the main thing I try to focus on.”
One reason Mainieri chose the lefty Person is because of TCU’s lefty-heavy lineup. The Horned Frogs have five lefties in the batting order and two switch hitters, including leadoff man Cody Jones.
The Big 12 Player of the Year has a much higher batting average hitting from the left side of the plate, so LSU wants to make him hit from the right against a lefty.
“He’s the guy that makes their lineup,” Person said. “If he’s 0-for one day, their lineup’s going to go down. That’s part of our strategy. It’s going to play to our advantage.”
After Person, it’s anyone’s guess who comes in next and for how long they pitch.
That strategy has worked for LSU before. The Tigers used seven pitchers against Lehigh in the opening game of the Baton Rouge regional, only one of them threw more than an inning.
These LSU relievers think that gives them an edge.
“We’re going to throw a different arm at them every time, and we’re all unique,” said Alden Cartwright, who could be one of several pitchers to appear Thursday. “It gives us the advantage because those hitters can’t get in a routine. That’s when they’re able to start putting good swings on the ball, and they won’t be able to do that.”
It also has its risks.
“All it takes is for one guy to not be sharp to ruin it,” Mainieri said. “But for the most part, when we’ve gone in with a plan, it works pretty well.”
Mainieri won’t hesitate to whip out a quick hook for a pitcher that’s struggling. He’s also not going to hold anyone back in attempt to save them for later in the tournament. While he does have an eye on the future, his biggest priority is to win Thursday.
“You have to approach it one game at a time now, because if you don’t win, the season’s over,” Mainieri said. “What good is it to save somebody for a game that may not happen?”