PITCHING: On the hill for LSU Baseball

Coach Paul Mainieri may have been several states away at Notre Dame last season, but he can still tell from paper that the LSU pitching staff he has inherited this season is in need of some help after finishing last season with a team total ERA of 5.04.

Therefore, when Mainieri took over the team in late June, he began his search for a pitching coach to help improve the Tigers' starting rotation and bullpen.


Mainieri did not have to look very far to find pitching coach Terry Rooney, who assisted under Mainieri at Notre Dame for three years. Rooney helped improve the Fighting Irish's pitching statistics. By the 2006 season, Notre Dame's pitching staff under Rooney's supervision had broken or tied four records including strikeouts, saves and fewest wild pitches.


Upon arrival in Baton Rouge, Rooney began instilling into his pitching staff the concept of offensive pitching.


"It just means to go right after the hitters and challenge them, and have a good tempo when you're on the mound," said sophomore pitcher Ryan Byrd. "I think that everyone's approach to pitching has gotten better. We are going out to the mound with a plan and not just throwing the ball. Guys are going out there and going right after the hitters. It is very fun to watch."


Rooney and Mainieri spent the fall with intense focus on the pitching aspect of their team.


"The pitching has taken a big step forward," Mainieri said. "I credit a lot of that to Terry Rooney and the work he has done with those kids. I don't really know what to compare it to because of course I wasn't here in the previous years, but statistically it didn't look good from what I saw from last year."


In an intense conference such as the Southeastern Conference, coaches are concerned first and foremost about their weekend rotation, especially when those weekends are filled with tough SEC opponents.


(Redundant? Or necessary to show eligibility?)

Clay Dirks returns for his senior season on the mound. Last year, Dirks posted a 4.70 ERA with a 5-4 record. He is still in the running for a job on the weekend rotation but is up against younger competition from junior pitchers Jared Bradford and Charlie Furbush and sophomore pitcher Louis Coleman.


"Out of those four guys, hopefully we're going to come up with a good, solid, weekend rotation," Mainieri said. "We also feel that it's very important to establish a very good bullpen. Hopefully one of those guys I mentioned that's not going to be in the starting rotation will be a main force for us out of the pen."


Other pitchers who will see significant time as relievers are Byrd, freshmen pitchers Chris Sorce and Blake Dean, as well as junior Michael Bonura, who has been in and out of injured status since coming to LSU in 2003.


"Somehow, some way, that group of pitchers, those are the guys who have asserted themselves the most at this point," Mainieri said. "It's kind of a work in progress, so we'll see how it plays out in the next three or four weeks."


Bonura had limited participation in fall practice because of nerve transplant surgery he underwent in August.


"All they did was make an incision in my muscle and laid the nerve in the muscle pretty much so the nerve doesn't move because it was moving out of place and causing my hand to go numb," Bonura said. "It was a minor surgery. It was nothing serious. It's been healing, and I'm ready to go."


Mainieri feels that establishing a pitching staff is the start of a successful team that can win.


"If you can run a pitcher out there who can give you a solid pitching performance every day then it gives you a chance to win every day," Mainieri said. "You're not going to win every day, but at least it gives you a fighting chance. So before you can worry about winning championships, you have to learn to be competitive on a day-in-and-day-out basis. That's our goal with our pitching staff right now."

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