Baseball Preview: Starting Pitching

This is the first edition of a weekly position breakdown of the 2013 LSU Tigers Baseball squad. The LSU starting pitching rotation returns two starters from 2012, in Ryan Eades and Aaron Nola. With the first two spots in the rotation locked down, who will be the third starter for the Tigers?

Heading into the 2013 season, and the season opener on February, 15th against Maryland, the LSU starting rotation only has one question mark. When Kevin Gausman decided to skip his remaining eligibility to sign with the Baltimore Orioles in the summer of 2012, it opened up the third starting spot in the rotation for the Tigers. With sophomore Aaron Nola and junior Ryan Eades poised to occupy the one and two spots in the rotation, who will take over the remaining role?

Head coach Paul Mainieri has yet to decide what route he would like to go when selecting the third starter. Having the first two spots in the rotation locked in allows for Mainieri to have numerous options when examining the open spot in the rotation.

As a sophomore, Eades threw 94 innings and had a very respectable 3.83 ERA. Throughout 2012, control was a problem for Eades, as he hit 15 batters last season, as compared to just two by the departed Kevin Gausman.

Nola posted slightly better numbers as a true freshman in 2012. He threw slightly less innings (89.2), but he had a 3.61 ERA, and averaged one strikeout per inning. On average, Nola also gave up less than one hit per inning.

After strong falls, there is no doubt in the mind of Mainieri that the two are ready for greatness in 2013.

"Eades had a tremendous fall practice after taking the summer off and he looks like he is ready to emerge as a frontline starter in the SEC," said Mainieri. "I have no doubt that Aaron Nola is already there. He had a tremendous year last year as a freshman and he has picked up right where he left off."

Given the performances of Nola and Eades last season, Mainieri feels less pressure about selecting one person to fill the open rotation spot.

"Fortunately we do have two other outstanding pitchers that I think are capable of not being Kevin Gausman, but being something close to it," explained Mainieri. "They are both capable of becoming first round draft choices."

"What I hope for is that Eades and Nola can pitch deep into games for us on Friday and Saturday because I do think that we have good depth on our staff."

In a perfect situation Mainieri would love to be able to use a by-committee approach for the Sunday starter spot. However, Mainieri feels that senior Brent Bonvillain could be the guy that they turn to for that third starter spot, regardless of the innings he will be expected to produce for the Tigers.

"If we can get to Sunday and not really ask that third starter to go out there and pitch seven innings for us, but give us four or five good innings and hold the other team to three runs, then we can piece together the rest of the game with the bullpen," said Mainieri. "One guy I didn't mention, Brent Bonvillain, probably has the inside track on being that third starter for us."

Bonvillain gained some valuable game experience in 2012. He threw 28.1 innings in which he had a 3.47 ERA and 26 strikeouts. Bonvillain would also give the starting rotation a left-handed arm that it has been missing for several seasons.

Ideally, the 2013 squad at LSU will play up to their potential. If that happens, especially in the starting rotation, then the Tigers will be set up to handle the hectic season that baseball brings with it.

Good performances from Eades and Nola will open the door for Bonvillain to become the third starter, and from there allow the depth of the LSU bullpen to really show through.

As Mainieri said, in a perfect situation they would love to be able to send Bonvillain out for four or five innings and let the bullpen finish the game. Not only would this conserve arms, but it would also gain great game experience for players heading into conference and postseason play.

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