LSU's Jared Foster, left, screams after crossing the plate during a Southeastern Conference tournament game against Alabama in Hoover, Ala. (Associated Press)
Last Modified: Tuesday, February 18, 2014 6:28 PMThe competition will get tougher, but head coach Paul Mainieri could find little to complain about with the Tigers’ 3-0 start in the opening weekend of the college baseball season.
The Tigers got three strong starting pitching performances, including the college debut of left-handed freshman Jared Poche, and made only one error in three games with two shutouts.
The Tigers blanked UNO 2-0 behind ace Aaron Nola, went to New Orleans Saturday to beat the Privateers 7-4, then returned home Sunday for a 6-0 shut out of Grambling.
“So it was a successful weekend for us,” Mainieri said.
But in sorting out this year’s edition, Mainieri was happiest he was able to use the entire roster — 13 pitchers and 17 position players, including 15 who saw their first LSU action.
“I like to play them early,” said Mainieri, who started four freshmen Sunday against Grambling. “If you’ve got a guy in a uniform, you’ve got to have confidence in him. Otherwise he shouldn’t be on the team.
“How can you ask a guy to come in and play for you in a critical situation later in the season if you don’t have the confidence to play him early?”
The Tigers, for what it’s worth this early in the season, remained No. 2 in the USA Today poll, No. 3 in Collegiate Baseball, and moved up one spot to No. 8 in the Baseball America rankings.
LSU plays on the road at Southeastern Louisiana Wednesday, before hosting three different teams over the weekend —Virginia Tech, Toledo and Texas Southern.
The evaluations will continue.
Poche, Louisiana’s Mr. Baseball in Louisiana last year at Lutcher High School, was particularly impressive while getting his fastball up to 93 mph.
“Jared is going to be a very good pitcher for us, and we saw evidence of that,” Mainieri said.
Poche cruised through his first five innings, and Mainieri almost pulled him at that point to insure he finished on a high note.
Mainieri said he was kicking himself when Poche gave up a single and a double to put runners on the corners with no outs in the sixth.
But the freshman muscled out of it with two strikeouts and a ground ball.
“That was really finishing on a high note, pitching out of a tough situation,” Mainieri said.
The Tigers, led by All-American shortstop Alex Bregman (.545, 3 RBIs) finished the weekend hitting .290 while holding the two opponents to a .163 average over the three games.
The Tigers started three different players, Tyler Moore, Kade Scivicque and Chris Chinea, at first base, with all three also catching.
The second base spot also got interesting.
Junior college transfer Hale Connor went 4-for-8 while starting the first two games.
But freshman Kramer Robertson, the son of Baylor women’s basketball coach Kim Mulkey, got the Sunday start and, while not managing a hit, did score three times after walking twice and was getting hit by a pitch.
But that wasn’t what caught the eye of the LSU head coach.
“His defense really impacted the game,” Mainieri said. “I thought Kramer Robertson put on a clinic out there that (last year’s starter) JaCoby Jones would have been proud of at second base.”
Robertson had several gems, but most impressively was a foul ball where he made a diving catch just before hitting the wall near the bullpen.
“That’s as fine a catch as you’ll ever see a second baseman make at any level,” Mainieri said. “He’s a much better game player than he is a practice player.
“He’s an excellent all-around athlete with great baseball instincts, and he made some tremendous plays.”