BASEBALL PREVIEW:<br>The LSU pitching staff

With the graduation of Bo Pettit and Jake Tompkins, as well as the defection of Brian Wilson, the bulk of the LSU pitching staff left after the 2003 season. <br><br> While the Tigers will be without a bulk of experience, there is hope as a grizzled veteran leads a band of youthful chunkers to the hill as LSU looks to develop a new identity as a staff.

Returning is Lane Mestepey. Lost after the 2002 season to rotator-cuff surgery, the hard-nosed junior is back and is expected to bring his never-say-die demeanor with him. Following close behind are Justin Meier and Nate Bumstead.


From out of nowhere a year ago, Meier and Bumstead emerged as weekend starters. No one could have imagined the year they'd have leading the Tigers to an SEC title. Combined with Mestepey, the trio appears to be prepared to tackle the weekend rotation with a supporting cast of many others.


"We have more bodies this year than we had last year," said pitching coach Brady Wiederhold. "But as far as how they are going to perform, we are just not sure yet."


And there is still questions surrounding Mestepey's return.


"Lane Mestepey will be back hopefully to the form he was two years ago," Wiederhold said. We have Nate Bumstead and Justin Meier, who were both workhorses for us last year. To be honest with you, past that, we don't know."


"We just really don't know if Lane Mestepey can bring his magic," said head coach Smoke Laval. "He is just not there yet."


Even if Mestepey isn't 100-percent, the crafty veteran can feed off the strength of the two young hurlers.


"Obviously, our one-two guys are going to be Bumstead and Meier," Wiederhold said. "They deserve it. They got out there last year and got the innings, got the experience. The rest of our experience is gone. Most of those guys now playing pro ball."


"Bumstead is better than he was last year, more confident, because he has that year," Laval added.

Bumstead and Meier combined for 19 wins last season. Bumstead, a second-team all-SEC selection, posted an 11-4 mark and a 4.42 ERA in 110 innings with 88 strikeouts and 28 walks. Meier earned 2003 freshman all-America honors as he recorded an 8-3 mark and a 2.83 ERA in 95.1 innings with 62 strikeouts and 25 walks.


And don't forget about Jason Determann. You're do-it-all purpose guy, Determann can do virtually anything in a game from starting, to long-relief, to closing.


"Along with the starting pitching experience that we have, we also have Jason Determann, as you have seen in the Regionals and Super Regionals against Baylor," Laval said. "He can do whatever we ask him to do."


Determann, LSU's top returning reliever, was also named to the 2003 freshman all-America squad.


The Baton Rouge native was 7-0 with a 2.94 ERA in 67.1 innings with 51 strikeouts and 11 walks.

The supporting cast behind these four will include Clay Dirks, who was lost to injury a year ago. Collin Smith, Jordan Faircloth and Greg Smith all figure into the equation.


Greg Smith (0-2, 4.01 ERA) and Faircloth (0-0, 4.63 ERA) saw limited duty last season from the bullpen while Collin Smith sat out with an injury.


The closer's role is still vacant as Brandon Nall gets closer to a return.


"Brandon Nall is definitely not ready at this point," Wiederhold said. "He has a long way to go. Clayton Dirks is coming off an injury. There are a lot of possibilities up in the air at this point."


One possibility is throwing Meier as the closer. If Dirks can get to the point where he can throw on the weekend, Laval said he might move Meier to the bullpen until Nall is ready.


"We don't know about our closers role, but he (Meier) could be even our No.1 starter," Laval said. "Brandon Nall was the closer, but he got hurt and he will take longer with his injury. While we are waiting for him, we could develop a young kid in that closer's role, but it may be Justin Meier."


Beyond the obvious, a couple of freshmen could play a significant role on this staff, one being true freshman Michael Bonura.


"We may have to red shirt some freshmen; there are two or three that could pitch," Laval said. "One is Michael Bonura. They (the freshmen) are very talented."


True freshman Jordan Mayer is one possibility, although Laval would like to give him another year to develop.

"Jordan Mayer is one guy that can pitch," Laval said. "But I would like to redshirt him. I mean, this kid is good."


Mestepey's returns jumpstarts pitching staff


By Matt Deville


It has been a while since Lane Mestepey toed the rubber. However, he hasn't strayed far from the dugout.


Since going down with an injury following the 2002 season, Mestepey has spent his days in the bullpen – coaching.


"Even when he couldn't play, he had a will to win that affected other people, so we could win games," said LSU head coach Smoke Laval. "That is what he is all about, very no-nonsense. He is all about winning."


It may be Mestepey's calling. Laval said it was like having a fourth assistant.


"He helped (Nate) Bumstead and (Justin) Meier last year about the Southeastern Conference, about regionals, about super regionals, the pitching frame of mind," Laval said. "He could run down and help somebody get loose in the pen, have a great sense of what going on. He could tell the guy in the pen, ‘you don't have to be in a hurry cause there are three lefties up, but when the rightie comes up, your going in.' He had been there, in those types of situations. That is ‘how to win' awareness."


Mestepey himself said he even enjoyed his role in 2003.


"Last year was fun for me," Mestepey said. "I would have liked to be out there on the mound. The injury didn't allow for me to be out there. But as long as I was able to contribute to the team, I felt like I did something. I got to see different aspects of the coaching game and also the players and what they go through. It was an exciting experience for me."


Now healthy, though, is he ready to pitch?


"Mestepey is going on a year and a half now," Laval said. "He needs some muscle memory and mound presence. He is fine. Health-wise, I don't see any problems with him. But he has to get back in the saddle. If there is one guy who can do that in a hurry, its Lane Mestepey. So far so good, knock on wood."


The former national freshman of the year admitted he is a bit nervous.


"It is going to be fun getting back out there," he said. "The first couple of pitches, its just going to be shaky, but after that I am just going to try and get back in the groove."


Whether he is effective from the start, one thing is for certain; he will try everything to win a game.

"He is a John Wayne-type," Laval said. "When it's time to tighten the belt, let's buckle up. I want him on my side."

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