Last Modified: Monday, May 21, 2012 8:02 PM
The Southeastern Conference tournament is important, LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri says, but the Tigers will treat it like a midweek game.
After all, they do start play on Wednesday.
The tournament, hosted in the upscale Birmingham suburb of Hoover, Ala. and expanded from eight to 10 teams this season, actually starts today. But the Tigers (42-14, 19-11 SEC) got a first-round bye after winning the regular season overall title and won’t open until Wednesday’s second game at approximately 12:30 p.m. on Fox Sports.
Due to the expanded format, they won’t learn their opponent until after today’s first two games.
The Tigers’ side of the bracket also includes No. 4 seed Kentucky, No. 6 seed Arkansas, No. 7 seed Mississippi State and No. 9 seed Ole Miss. Kentucky and Ole Miss open the tournament this morning, followed by Arkansas against Mississippi State.
The lowest seeded winner of those two games — it can’t be Kentucky —will be LSU’s opening opponent.
Mainieri will start freshman Aaron Nola in the first game but — kicking into midweek mode — only for an inning or two.
“Hopefully he’ll give us a very efficient inning or two and from that point we’ll go into our bullpen and kind of mix and match the rest of the game,” Mainieri said.
Ace Kevin Gausman will start LSU’s game on Thursday and the plan is to pitch him as far as he go within reason.
But Gausman pitched a complete game in last Friday’s victory over South Carolina and Mainieri didn’t want to bring him back for a complete start that quickly.
If LSU gets to a third game in the double-elimination tournament, usual No. 3 starter Ryan Eades would take his normal turn.
“If we are fortunate enough to get to the weekend (Nola) will be ready for a start on the weekend,” Mainieri said.
LSU, which took a tumble in the major polls last week, shot back up this week after taking two of three at previous No. 2 South Carolina to capture the SEC title.
According to projections, that should have wrapped up one of the coveted eight national seeds for LSU, which allows a team to host an NCAA tournament super regional assuming they win their regional.
“I wish I was as confident as the consensus is,” said Mainieri, who was shocked last year when the Tigers were left completely out of the NCAA tournament. “I’ve learned not to take anything for granted when it comes to committees that have to make decisions.
“I would hope everybody is right, that we’ve earned a national seed.”
The Tigers moved up to No. 2 in both the Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball polls.
Mainieri also said that starting catcher Ty Ross, who’s missed the last two weekends after an emergency appendectomy, has been cleared to resume physical activity and might be available on a limited basis if the Tigers make a deep run in the tournament.
Given the surgery, Mainieri said it would be Wednesday before they would let Ross doing any squatting. But he might be used on a limited basis later in the week.
“The uniqueness of his position is what we’re most worried about,” he said. “We’re not going to push it to make sure he’s ready for the NCAA tournament.
“He might be able to play a little on the weekend, if we’re still there. Probably as the DH, maybe a couple of innings catching.”