What’s eating LSU’s Gilbert?

Missing Sunday piece puzzles Mainieri

<p class="p1"><strong>Caleb Gilbert</strong></p><p class="p2"><span class="s1"><strong>Last years CWS hero struggles to find success</strong></span></p><p>(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)</p>Nati Harnik

{{tncms-inline alignment="left" content="&amp;lt;p class=&amp;quot;p1&amp;quot;&amp;gt;&amp;lt;span class=&amp;quot;s1&amp;quot;&amp;gt;&amp;lt;strong&amp;gt;Tennessee at LSU, &amp;lt;/strong&amp;gt;&amp;lt;/span&amp;gt;&amp;lt;strong&amp;gt;7 p.m.&amp;lt;/strong&amp;gt;&amp;lt;/p&amp;gt;" id="ea0aa875-d91b-4a76-85ce-49db27549677" style-type="fact" title="TONIGHT" type="relcontent"}}

<p class="p1">In similar times of crisis, LSU head coach Paul Mainieri has never been shy about making the call to an old reliable solution.

<p class="p3">You know him as the venerable “Johnny Wholestaff,” the pitching-by-committee work-around on the mound that has gotten the Tigers out of a bind many times in the past.

<p class="p3">But in the wake of No. 2 starter Caleb Gilbert’s continuing struggles, Mainieri isn’t even being that specific as the Tigers prepare to host Tennessee in a weekend Southeastern Conference series beginning tonight.

<p class="p3">For now, the Sunday start will go to TBA, aka, To Be Announced.

<p class="p3">Translation: Mainieri will play it by ear for the weekend.

<p class="p3">It could even be Gilbert, who stepped up as a postseason star for the Tigers a year ago, but has had trouble sneaking many pitches by SEC hitters this season.

<p class="p3">Opponents are batting .331 against the same pitcher who was 5-0 in the postseason a year ago, capped when he held No. 1 Orgeron State to one run on two hits in the game that put the Tigers in the College World Series finals.

<p class="p3">Mainieri emphasized that he wasn’t giving up on Gilbert (3-3, 4.76 ERA), whose up-and-down season hit rock bottom last Friday when he didn’t get out of the first inning while Texas A&amp;M scored five runs on six hits.

<p class="p3">But, for now at least, Mainieri said he thinks Gilbert might be better suited to come out of the bullpen, which he did for an encouraging perfect inning in LSU’s 2-0 win against Louisiana Tech on Tuesday night.

<p class="p3">“I can see that role being really good for him,” Mainieri said. “Us having a lead when the starter doesn’t go real deep into the game, he can come in and pitch three or four innings if he’s hot. And if he’s not, you go to somebody else.”

<p class="p3">Of course, somebody else also has to start Sunday as pleasant surprise Ma’Khail Hilliard (6-2, 1.34) moves into Gilbert’s Saturday role.

<p class="p3">Mainieri has several options — he hinted that left-hander Nick Bush (0-0, 3.00) might be his first choice –— but mainly it depends on who gets used and how much out of the bullpen in the first two games.

<p class="p3">“We’ll just see how the weekend goes,” Mainieri said.

<p class="p3">Bush has been a reliable arm as a bridge between the starter and closer Austin Bain (1-1, 2.31, 3 Svs).

<p class="p3">“The problem is we’d be giving up a key arm at the end of ballgames, and I don’t know if we want to do that yet,” Mainieri said.

<p class="p3">Freshman AJ Labas (4-1, 2.23) has been impressive since taking over the midweek starting chores following back surgery.

<p class="p3">“He is a candidate,” Mainieri said. “(But) I don’t know if he’s ready for that or not. I don’t know if his stuff is strong enough for the SEC yet. I think AJ is still pitching himself into shape.”

<p class="p3">He said he won’t rule out using Gilbert again if he’s not needed in the first two games.

<p class="p3">And there’s always a chance Johnny Wholestaff will get the call after all.

<p class="p3">LSU (21-13, 6-6 SEC) enterd the series against Tennessee (21-14, 5-7) in third place in the SEC West, but two games behind division-leader Arkansas. The Vols have won their last three games.

<hr /><p class="p4"><strong>Team Comparisons</strong>

<p class="p6">Tennessee (21-14⁄ 5-7 SEC): .263 BA; 4.12 ERA; .969 FA.

<p class="p6">LSU (21-13⁄ 6-6 SEC): .289 BA; 3.69 ERA; .983 FA.

<p class="p5"><strong>Pitching Matchups</strong>

<p class="p5"><strong>7 p.m. Today</strong>

<p class="p6">UT, LH Garrett Crochet (2-4, 5.64, 44.2 IP, 13 BB, 40 SO) vs. LSU, RH Zack Hess (5-3, 4.08 ERA, 46.1 IP, 24 BB, 60 SO).

<p class="p5"><strong>6:30 p.m. Saturday</strong>

<p class="p6">UT, RH Garrett Stallings (3-3, 3.13 ERA, 54.2 IP, 12 BB, 34 SO) vs. LSU, RH Ma’Khail Hilliard (6-2, 1.34 ERA, 40.1 IP, 14 BB, 41 SO).

<p class="p5"><strong>4 p.m. Sunday, SECN</strong>

<p class="p6">UT, RH Will Neely (4-1, 3.31 , 49 IP, 12 BB, 34 SO) vs. LSU, TBA.

<p class="p1"><span class="s1"><strong>Tennessee at LSU, </strong></span><strong>7 p.m.</strong>

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