LSU pitching regains respectability

{{tncms-inline content="<p class="p1" style="text-align: center;"><span class="s1"><strong>LSU at Texas A&M, </strong></span><strong>7 p.m., SECN</strong></p>" id="9c572571-e288-4454-87c9-0e95ba86cccb" style-type="quote" title="Pull Quote" type="relcontent"}}

<p class="p1">Evidently Paul Mainieri had done the math in advance.

<p class="p3">But shortly after No. 3 starter Ma’Khail Hilliard keyed LSU’s combined shutout of Mississippi State to clinch the Southeastern Conference series last Saturday, Mainieri did one last double-check of the box score.

<p class="p3">“It’s official,” he shouted in hallelujah style. “Our ERA is under four.”

<p class="p3">He was right — 3.82 to be exact.

<p class="p3">It took seven weeks.

<p class="p3">But it’s been steadily improving ever since a disastrous opening week — when the team ERA was 7.50 — to where pitching now seems the least of the Tigers’ problems.

<p class="p3">And that ERA is still dropping after the Tigers tuned up for this week’s key SEC series at Texas A&amp;M with a 10-1 victory over Nicholls State on Tuesday night.

<p class="p3">That brought it to 3.73 heading into College Station.

<p class="p3">Even that is misleading.

<p class="p3">The Tigers still rank No. 12 among the 14 SEC teams in team ERA.

<p class="p3">But in SEC games only — where typically, considering the competition, the numbers are worse — the Tigers’ ERA is 3.04.

<p class="p3">In conference play, the Tigers’ ERA ranks No. 2 in the SEC.

<p class="p3">LSU first two weekend starters, Zack Hess (4-3, 4.93 ERA) and Caleb Gilbert (3-2, 3.79) have shown steady improvement and Hilliard (6-1, 0.76), a freshman, has been one of the season’s most pleasant surprises in locking down the No. 3 spot. His ERA leads the SEC.

<p class="p3">But the bullpen, which had its own struggles early, has been even better of late. The relievers have not allowed a run in their last 291⁄3 innings while allowing one inherited runner to score over that period.

<p class="p3">“The bullpen has been phenomenal,” said Mainieri, who suddenly has a wealth of options to mix and match while trying to get the game to closer Austin Bain.

<p class="p3">The Tigers (19-11, 5-4 SEC) head into A&amp;M’s Blue Bell Park tied for second place with Arkansas in a tight SEC race. Those two are one game behind first-place Ole Miss.

<p class="p3">The Aggies (21-8, 3-6) have the opposite dynamic at work.

<p class="p3">Texas A&amp;M is 18-2 in nonconference games and at one time was ranked in the top 10 nationally before a slow start to conference play.

<p class="p3">The Aggies’ 2.83 overall ERA is the best in the conference, eighth best nationally. But in nine conference games that number inflates to 4.68 ERA, 11th in the league.

<p class="p3">A&amp;M is batting .288 overall, but .237 in conference games.

<hr /><p class="p5"> 

<p class="p5"><strong>Team Comparisons</strong>

<p class="p6">LSU (19-11, 5-4 SEC): .299 BA; 3.73 ERA; .982 FA.

<p class="p6">Texas A&amp;M (21-8, 3-6 SEC): .288 BA; 2.83 ERA; .970 FA.

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

<p class="p6"><strong>7 p.m. Today, SECN</strong>

<p class="p6">LSU, RH Zack Hess (4-3, 4.93 ERA, 38.1 IP, 21 BB, 37 SO) vs. A&amp;M, RH Stephen Kolek (3-3, 3.02, 41.2 IP, 16 BB, 40 SO).

<p class="p5"><strong>6 p.m. Friday, SECN</strong>

<p class="p6">LSU, RH Caleb Gilbert (3-2, 3.79 ERA, 38 IP, 9 BB, 26 SO) vs. A&amp;M, LH John Doxakis (4-1, 2.03, 40 IP, 8 BB, 38 SO).

<p class="p5"><strong>2 p.m. Saturday</strong>

<p class="p6">LSU, RH Ma’Khail Hilliard (6-1, 0.76 ERA, 35.1 IP, 11 BB, 37 SO) vs. A&amp;M, RH Mitchell Kilkenny (6-0, 1.59 ERA, 45.1 IP, 11 BB, 40 SO).

<p class="p1" style="text-align: center;"><span class="s1"><strong>LSU at Texas A&amp;M, </strong></span><strong>7 p.m., SECN</strong>

      4274bbee-f59c-11e7-a72f-e7d4ef59e4142018-01-10T00:21:00ZFlorida Legislative SessionHali Tauxe/Tallahassee Democrat via APFlorida Gov. Rick Scott delivers his State of the State Address in the House chambers on the opening day of the legislative session, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018, in Tallahassee, Fla. ””