Mike Gillespie’s club from the West Coast has faced its share of talented front line pitchers this year.
UC Irvine saw Tulane’s Shooter Hunt, who Baseball America projects as a first round pick in tomorrow’s draft, and the Anteaters are glad they will not see him again at the collegiate level.
Hunt stymied the bats and allowed only one hit while striking out 11 batters in a 2-0 decision over UC Irvine the first weekend in March.
Most recently, Nebraska’s ace Josh Dorn, threw one of his better games of the year and although he came up on the losing end in a 3-2 loss at the Lincoln Regional he went the distance and had a real solid outing.
LSU’s No. 1 starter Ryan Verdugo (9-2, 3.81 ERA) will get the ball on Saturday for game one of the Super Regional in Baton Rouge.
The junior southpaw has not suffered a defeat since a 7-1 loss at Florida back on March 29 but he has had some problems with getting deep into the game.
Since his sterling eight-inning performance at Kentucky on May 3 where he allowed only three hits and one unearned run, Verdugo’s longest outing is six innings and he has had problems making it out of the fifth inning on three occasions.
Fatigue and the heat take their toll once you get late into the season, especially in the hot and humid South Louisiana, and when Verdugo takes the mound on Saturday his game plan will be rather simple.
“We just have to get ahead in the count this week,” he said. “We kind of fell behind last weekend with some of our counts, so we just have to pound the strike zone with strikes, and let our defense play behind us. If we do that then we’ll be fine.”
The other starters, Blake Martin (5-3, 4.88 ERA) and Jordan Brown (4-0, 5.32 ERA), have both had their moments for the Tigers but like Verdugo they also have had some trouble going deep in recent outings.
However, his other three stints in his past six appearances have gone a combined eleven and two third innings.
Brown has made it past the fifth inning only once in his last four starts and over that span he has lasted a total of only fourteen and a third innings.
One reason Verdugo, Martin and Brown have not been called upon to stay on the hill and battle through adversity as much as some other pitchers have had to do is because of the outstanding job LSU’s bullpen has done all year long.
After all, anytime a coach can have his best pitcher from a year ago come out of the bullpen such as Jared Bradford has mostly done since the Georgia series then he has to feel pretty good about the arms he has in his rotation.
“We thought that we had one of the best pitching staffs in the country but one thing we needed to be able to do was have some guys step us as starters so we could use Jared Bradford out of the bullpen and use him more frequently,” Rooney said. “Once we were able to do that things started coming together and everyone has really accepted their roles.”
Accepting that role would be tough for many young men in Bradford’s shoes because it isn’t like he didn’t prove his worth last season.
The senior right-hander was 10-4 with five saves in Mainieri’s first season in Baton Rouge but more impressive was his 7-3 mark with three saves in SEC play.
Bradford followed that up with the same exact mark of 10-4 with five saves this season and his 4.05 earned run average is good enough for second on the team behind Verdugo.
Bradford’s unselfishness has played a key role in LSU’s success on the hill this season according to Rooney and another grisly veteran that has overcome his fair share of adversity also deserves credit in Louis Coleman.
Like Bradford, Coleman was a Friday night starter in his first year at LSU.
The junior right-hander went 5-6 as a freshman then was moved to the bullpen last season where he posted a 2-3 mark with four saves.
Coleman got knocked around in his first two years with the Tigers as he posted a 6.14 and 5.59 ERA, respectively, but this season he has been magnificent.
The native of Schlater, Miss. is 6-0 with a pair of saves and a spectacular 1.39 earned run average.
Coleman has suffered through arm problems, a change in delivery, a change in roles, and about anything else you can think of from a pitcher’s standpoint.
His determination and grit has not gone unnoticed and as good as Bradford has been in his role the job that Coleman has done has been just as remarkable.
“I think Louis Coleman has really emerged in a major way and made a big difference for our bullpen,” Mainieri said. “We’ve had a lot of guys do it but the big difference is Coleman has come in with a great arm and has pounded the strike zone. It’s given us a big lift and allowed us to use some of the other guys in a role that really fits them.”
Settling into his role as a long reliever, and sometimes setup man, took some time getting used to for Coleman but he has accepted his new role with open arms.
“It was a little bit of an adjustment but I like coming in and having the game on the line,” Coleman said. “When you start you have the whole game on your shoulders and I like that pressure but when you come in with a one-run lead the pressure is still there and you’re still a factor.”
What truly makes this LSU staff so strong is the deep stable of pitchers the Tigers have.
Some teams may only have a Bradford and a select few may have a Coleman they can call upon too, but LSU has the luxury of having plenty of other guys like Paul Bertuccini, Daniel Bradshaw, Austin Ross, Anthony Reynaudo, Nolan Cain, Ryan Byrd, and the list goes on and on.
The guys that come out of the pen this weekend for LSU will have to play a big role if the Tigers plan to extend their season.
That shouldn’t be a problem, though, for this group because they have all played a role at some point this season and have played it pretty well.