LSU in the land of the unranked

LSU woke up in a whole new world Tuesday.

Call it the land of the unranked.

{{tncms-inline alignment=”left” content=”<p class="p1"><strong><span class="s1">Lamar at LSU,</span></strong><strong><span class="s1"> </span><span class="s2">6:</span><span class="s3">30 p.m.</span></strong></p> <p class="p2"> </p>” id=”9931cf0f-c7a3-4f82-b38e-bd2985deed1a” style-type=”fact” title=”UP NEXT” type=”relcontent” width=”half”}}

It’s the latest fallout from being swept over the weekend at South Carolina — a four-game losing streak counting a midweek loss at Tulane — as the Tigers fell out of the all four of the major polls for the first time since 2012.

It was the longest current ranked streak in college baseball.

“That’s a run I’m pretty proud of,” head coach Paul Mainieri said.

But he can’t worry about it now.

The Tigers (24-17, 9-9 SEC) will be back in action tonight when they host Lamar before hitting the road again for a Thursday-Saturday series at Ole Miss.

“My only concern right now is beating Lamar,” Mainieri said. “Honestly that’s it. That’s the only thing that’s even remotely on my mind.”

It brings back former Mainieri assisant Will Davis, now in his second year as head coach of the Cardinals.

Lamar (13-37) has struggled this season but has  won six of its last seven games.

Suddenly pitching is LSU’s biggest concern.

Freshman righthander AJ Labas (4-1, 3.96 ERA) will start tonight, trying to regain his form after two straight sub-part outings.

Mainieri often pitches by committee in the midweek, but will be looking for Labas to go as deep into the game as possible.

“We need him to pitch deep into the game as much as we’ve ever needed it after what happened with the bullpen this past weekend,” Mainieri said. “Not just the lack of success, but how hard they all worked. We need a good outing by him tomorrow night.”

In getting swept at South Carolina  — the first time in four years LSU lost all three games in an SEC series — the biggest culprit was the pitching.

LSU got a so-so start from Friday night starter Zack Hess and the first really rough outing of freshman Ma’Khail Hilliard’s young career on Saturday.

Sunday was the weekend’s rare bright spot when Nick Bush, making his first SEC start, threw five shut out innings on three hits and left with a 6-0 lead. But the bullpen promptly imploded by giving up eight runs on eight hits and five walks over the next three innings.

It was similar to the Tulane loss last week when the bullpen squandered a two-run lead in the bottom of the ninth while recording only one out.

“We were this close to being 2-2,” Mainieri said of the rough week. “But you have to play all nine innings.”

Bush will likely get another start Saturday in the final game at Ole Miss. But Sunday showed just how much the bullpen misses him.

It was so glaring that Mainieri said that if not for the short week with a Thursday-Saturday SEC series, Bush might go back to the bullpen.

But after throwing a career-longest outing on 89 pitches Mainieri said he wouldn’t want to use Bush again until Saturday anyway. So he will start that game.

LSU could start getting some injured players back.

Mainieri said that Sunday he got a text from shortstop Josh Smith, who hasn’t played since the opening week of the season with a stress reaction in his back, saying that “I’m ready to play this week.” 

That was news to the LSU trainers, who will have the final word, but Mainieri was optimistic.

“He can’t get back soon enough for me,” Mainieri said.

Monday was a day off for the players, but Smith apparently hit on his own in the cages Sunday and Mainieri said he might work on the field Monday.

“I haven’t even seen Josh yet,” Mainieri said early Monday. “I know he’s coming down to the training room in a little bit. I know he wants to play and he’s feeling better.”

Mainieri also said that Bryce Jordan will still be limited to pinch hitting as his bruised knee isn’t yet ready for him to play in the field.

Mainieri said it’s also possible that pitcher Caleb Gilbert could return after missing last week with a  sore arm.

Lamar at LSU, 6:30 p.m.

 

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