Last Modified: Monday, April 08, 2013 5:41 PM
LSU took over the No. 1 spot in one national poll Monday, and this week could offer a glimpse of how long the record-setting Tigers might stay there.
Collegiate Baseball moved LSU to the top of the heap ahead of North Carolina — by a single point — while the Baseball America kept the Tigers at No. 3 behind the Tar Heels and Vanderbilt. The USA Today coaches poll has LSU behind only North Carolina.
The fastest start in school history — which included an impressive sweep of then-No. 8 Kentucky over the weekend — has LSU (30-2, 11-1 SEC) leading the conference’s West Division by three games over Arkansas and Alabama, but still only tied with Vanderbilt atop the overall standings.
“We’re not even at the halfway point of the SEC schedule,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “You can’t get carried away because if you do you start thinking everything comes easy and forget about the little things that you have to do.”
There’s a big item on the to-do list for Mainieri this week.
Before traveling to Arkansas for the first of two straight SEC road weekends, the Tigers will play Southern twice this week. The Jaguars will be the replacement opponent for the Wally Pontiff Classic at Zephyr Field in Metairie tonight. The scheduled game with Southern Miss was rained out last week and the two schools couldn’t find a common date to make it up. Southern was already scheduled to play LSU In Alex Box Stadium on Wednesday night.
Southern has beaten LSU only twice in 48 previous meetings.
But Mainieri will be watching closely tonight as junior Kurt McCune makes his season debut on the mound.
“I feel like we’re really in need of one more good arm in the bullpen and perhaps a starting pitcher,” Mainieri said.
McCune could fit the description, which got more pressing last week when Russell Reynolds, who’d been impressive in midweek starts, tore the labrum in his pitching shoulder and will be lost for the season.
McCune, who was a freshman All-American as a weekend starter two seasons ago, lost his spot in the rotation while struggling last season and strained his back early in preseason workouts this year. The medical staff has been conservative in bringing him back slowly.
“I’m feeling healthy, as healthy as I’ve been,” McCune said Sunday. “I’m throwing hard, throwing (with) conviction. I’m really excited. I’m just really anxious to see how it works out.”
If McCune can approach his freshman numbers (7-3, 3.31 ERA) it could be a big boost for the Tigers.
Mainieri said, however, McCune would be limited to three innings in his first outing.
“We don’t have an overabundance of pitching,” Mainieri said. “If Kurt can step in there it would give us a real shot in the arm.”
LSU’s opening two weekend starters, Aaron Nola and Ryan Eades, have been dominant on Friday and Saturday nights.
Sunday has been more of a toss-up — Cody Glenn has been fine in both of his SEC home starts, but roughed up twice on the road.
The same has been true in the bullpen, where setup man Joey Bourgeois and closer Chris Cotton have coasted, but with mixed results when the starters did go deep enough into the game to get to Bourgeois.
But Mainieri may also subscribing to the theory you can’t have too much pitching.
“It’s not even just about the rest of the season,” he said. “You’d like to start thinking now you’re putting yourself in position for postseason play. You’re talking about the SEC tournament — could be a long week. You’re talking what happens if you get thrown into the losers’ bracket in a (NCAA) regional, same with the College World Series.”