Everything LSU does is working at CWS

LSU head coach Paul Manieri

OMAHA, Nebraska - It's all come back to this.

It's all about the mid-week games in college baseball.

Two wins away from its first national championship since 2009, and LSU is pitching ... drum roll please ... spotlight at center stage .... he's walking to the mound ... RUSSELL REYNOLDS?

LSU coach Paul Mainieri has decided to start in the opening game Monday at 6 p.m. of the College World Series best-of-three national championship series against Florida, none other than fifth-year senior Russell Reynolds, who is 1-1 on the season with an 8.59 earned run average.

Of the 16 pitchers listed on LSU's stat sheet with Alex Lange, Jared Poche and Eric Walker at the top, Reynolds is at No. 14 - a notch below Doug Norman, who has been out for the year nearly all year.

Reynolds has not started a game since 2015. He has not pitched more than an inning and two-thirds in a game since March 3 when he threw three innings. Still, in limited use and just 14 and two-thirds innings all year, he has managed to allow four home runs for sixth on the team.

His opponent - sophomore right-hander Brady Singer is 8-5 with a 3.18 ERA and has allowed only five home runs in 123 and two-thirds innings.

"I really don't even know who we're going to start yet," Mainieri said Sunday after the CWS press conference. "Probably won't matter because it's going to be a mish-mash of guys."

Oh, so it's a mid-week game. The "won't matter" part drives that home. Mid-week games are that thing unique to college baseball. They are in-season exhibition games in which teams usually work out or practice those pitchers not quite ready for prime time on the weekends.

Because LSU ace Alex Lange just pitched Friday night, throwing 115 pitches through seven and a third innings to beat No. 1 Oregon State, 3-1, he will not pitch until Wednesday. If he pitched Tuesday, he'd only have three days rest. He has never done that.

"And I don't know how effective he'd be," Mainieri said.

Poche could pitch Monday. He has not pitched since Wednesday and will have had four days rest. But Mainieri decided against that.

"Well, if we're going to do that with Lange, we might as well give Poche five days rest," he said. "So he's going to pitch on Tuesday."

And Mainieri also did not want to throw Poche on Monday, because if he lost, then there would be pressure to throw Lange on Tuesday in the elimination game. And Lange may even volunteer. And Mainieri would think about it. Now, he has evaded that situation.

So, it's almost like LSU doesn't want to win Monday so it can pitch Lange, unless it presents itself.   

"We're going to try to figure out how to get through the first two-thirds or seven innings of the game," Mainieri said. "If we can just get to the back end of the game and have a chance to win, we have Zack waiting there."

That would be Zack Hess, he of the 97 mph fastball who is LSU's newly crowned closer with three saves in the Tigers' five games here. But if LSU's not close, he's not pitching so he can be saved for Tuesday and Wednesday.

Florida is in a bit of a pickle with its pitchers, too, as it just threw its ace - junior right-hander Alex Faedo (9-2, 2.26 ERA) on Saturday for 115 pitches to beat TCU, 3-0, so it could get to the series. LSU is lucky Florida lost to TCU, 9-2, on Friday or else Faedo would be pitching Monday or Tuesday.

Too bad, the national championship game will not pit Lange and Faedo - a pair of first round draft choices two weeks ago by the Chicago Cubs and Detroit Tigers, respectively. That happened on March 24 in Gainesville, Florida. Lange struck out seven in eight innings. Faedo fanned seven in seven innings. Florida won, 1-0.

LSU doesn't have Eric Walker (8-2, 3.48 ERA) to start as he suffered an arm injury last week and is done for the year. But Florida may not have Faedo at all unless he relieves Wednesday or pitches a few innings as the starter.

Yes, LSU could win a three-game series against Florida for the national championship and not have to face its ace. The reason the World Series went to a three-game series in 2003 from the one title game was to avoid that.

But it has been that kind of a World Series for LSU. Everything just keeps going its way. In their opening, 5-4 win here over Florida State, the Tigers had a runner score from first on a strike out that should have ended the inning and had another run score when the Seminoles made three errors on the same play.

Then No. 8 hitter Michael Papierski hit home runs from both sides of the plate in a 6-1 win over No. 1 seed Oregon State on Saturday to get the Tigers to the title series. He had never done that before - not even in Little League. No one had ever hit two home runs - from the same or either side - in the same CWS game in TD Ameritrade until then. And no one has hit homers from both sides of the plate at the CWS as least as far back as 1999, because before that they didn't keep that stat.

Beau Jordan also hit just his second home run since April in that game against a team that LSU lost to 13-1 just last Monday.

So who knows? Maybe Russell Reynolds will be the right call. Just about everything else Mainieri has tried has worked, whether he expected it to or not. He did not think Caleb Gilbert, who was a mid-week starter most of the season after failing as a closer, to one-hit No. 1 Oregon State for seven innings in the 6-1 win Saturday to get the Tigers here.

"I wish I could tell you that I went to bed last night and dreamt that Caleb Gilbert would give us seven shutout innings on one-hit ball," Mainieri said Saturday. "And that Papierski was gong to launch one out on each side of the plate, and Beau was going to tomahawk a 97 mph fastball into the stands. But I'd be lying if I told you that."

LSU's just living right. So right, it's starting a third line pitcher to open the College World Series national championship series.

Who knows? Maybe Russell Reynolds will toss a no-hitter Monday night.

But if he struggles, remember, it’s only a mid-week game. And this weekend falls on a Tuesday and Wednesday with Poche and Lange.

© Gannett Co., Inc. 2017. All Rights Reserved


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