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A DandyDon.com Q&A with LSU head baseball coach Paul Mainieri, Part 1
From interview conducted Tuesday, February 5, 2019
Scott: I understand a few of your highly-touted freshmen pitchers have really been throwing well. When we last spoke, it sounded like Landon Marceaux, Jaden Hill, and Cole Henry were all competing to be a weekend starter, with Marceaux likely to start in Game 2 of the opening weekend. How has the competition played out, and what’s the status of Eric Walker?
Paul: Well, first of all, Eric Walker threw on Monday in a game setting for the first time in 19 months, or whatever it’s been, so that was the highlight of our scrimmage to see Eric pitch two innings. He had pitched in simulated games but never with a full team behind him and having to field his position and just playing a real game. That was his first action and he looked pretty good! So now he’ll progress. This Sunday he’ll pitch three innings and if everything goes well, he’ll pitch the following Sunday against the Air Force Academy.
Marceaux, every time Hill and Henry provide a challenge to him it seems like it just makes Marceaux raise his game. He pitched on Saturday and was really dominant. I think he went four innings and we even had to extend one of the innings just to get his pitch count up because he had no baserunners and I wanted him to throw a little bit out of the stretch. I think he struck out like five batters out of the 14 he faced. I’m virtually certain that Marceaux will pitch the second game of the season and we’ll probably have Hill and Henry pitch an inning out of the bullpen either opening night or Saturday just to get their feet wet in front of a big crowd. Those two guys will probably start the midweek games against SW and at Northwestern State.
Scott: Is it too early to say who will be counted on in various roles out of the bullpen?
Paul: We know Todd Peterson will be the guy at the end of the game. Guys like Fontenot and Beck… and Vietmeier has really improved. A kid named Riggs Threadgill has done some good stuff. Aaron George has shown a little bit. And we’re really high on a kid named Rye Gunter. He’s a freshman and still has some rough edges to smooth out, but he has a big arm with a 90+ mph fastball. Those guys for sure will be out of the pen, and I would guess that if Ma'Khail is healthy we’ll use him out of the pen as well.
After two weeks, presume Hill and Henry will each start those two midweek games the first week and probably the two midweek games the next week. After those two weeks are over, we’ll decide what we’re going to do with the midweek game, and whether or not we’ll continue to start one of those guys or move them both to the bullpen.
And in all honesty, we have to see where Walker is. We think he’s going to be ready to compete at a high level, but he hasn’t pitched in games in a while. His velocity is not quite what it was before he got hurt. He was 90 when he was pitching so well. Last night his best fastball was about 86. Is his velocity going to take a tick up? Is his command going to be good? Will he have a bite on his curveball and feel for his changeup? He hasn’t pitched in so long; we just have to be sure he’s ready to compete at a high level. If he’s not, he could potentially move to midweek starts and one of the two freshmen could take over the Sunday role. We just don’t know yet.
Scott: When we last spoke, the only position that seemed to be up in the air was first base. And if I recall correctly, it was a battle of four freshmen. Can you update me on how that position battle is playing out?
Paul: That’s still a battle. I’m waiting for one guy to kind of take the bull by the horns and emerge and say this is my position. They’ve all had their moments here and there, but they’ve also shown some deficiencies as well. So, at this point, it’s still very much up in the air. The next seven days are going to tell a lot.
(Update from Scott: Recent reports indicate that Drew Bianco currently has a lead in this competition, but that it’s far from being decided.)
Scott: I know you had a pretty good idea of how the batting order would play out at Media Day with seemingly the only questions coming at the bottom of the order where you said some combination of Hal Hughes and Brandt Broussard would occupy the eight and nine holes. How are those two swinging the bat?
Paul: Actually, both of those guys look pretty good for that role. But you can forget about what I said on Media Day. (laughter). That lineup is probably not going to be close to what it looks like on opening day. I get asked the questions and I say if today is the day this is what the lineup would look like, but then you have three weeks of practice and things become much more fluid.
I doubt that I’ll hit Saul Garza in the 3-hole. He hits some balls really hard, but he also has a propensity to strike out pretty frequently. I didn’t have a large sample of him from the fall and was basing my optimism on batting practice and the start of practice. But now that he’s gotten in there against high caliber pitchers, he’s had a little bit more trouble so I think it would probably be a little too much to throw him right into the three-hole. If you move him down in the order a little bit, you have to figure out what to do with the middle of the order, so ol’ reliable Duplantis will probably move back to the 3-hole after all.
Scott: I’ve been looking at the stats tweeted out after each scrimmage by the account LSUbaseballData. It seems to me like Daniel Cabrera has been swinging the bat very well and I’ve noticed a couple of dingers from Saul Garza and a dinger from Josh Smith Monday night. That reminds me that when we last spoke you reminded me that you predicted 40-45 home runs last season and it ended up being 48. This year you said it would probably be closer to 60. Are you still feeling that way?
Paul: I’m feeling confident about it. This is the problem with scrimmages, Scott. If the pitchers dominate, then you wonder if your hitting is good enough. If you think of a football scrimmage, if the team moves right down the field you wonder about your defense. If the defense plays great, you wonder if you can move the ball at all. That’s why I’m glad when the scrimmages are over and we’re playing another team. But I do know this: our hitters have faced probably as tough of8 pitchers as they will face at any time in the season. I can tell from the velocity readings. I bet you… give me one second, and I’ll count how many guys have thrown 90 mph or harder… one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven… We’ve had 11 guys throw 90 mph or in excess of 90 mph.
Scott: That’s incredible. Have you ever had that before?
Paul: I can’t remember having that. So what happens is it’s a real challenge for our hitters in these scrimmages… You know, all of a sudden these guys are jumping in there against guys throwing the ball extremely hard, and some of them have good secondary pitches as well. So, I’m not overly concerned about our offense, but it hasn’t looked great up to this point for those reasons.
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