Four weekends into the Southeastern Conference schedule, LSU has won two series and lost two series.
Since the Tigers swept Georgia, they will take a 7-5 league record into the series against Ole Miss which begins Thursday at The Box (6:30 p.m. Central/SEC Digital Network).
AP Photo/Gerald Herbert
The surprising fact about the record is that LSU is just 4-4 record in SEC games started by Alex Lange and Jared Poche. Both Lange and Poche have made two SEC starts in which they didn’t last five innings. The Tigers won two of those games – thanks to a 22-run outburst and a five-run ninth-inning rally.
LSU wasted two outstanding pitching performances by Lange, who received no run support in losses to Florida and Texas A&M. The Tigers did win the two games in which Poche threw an effective seven innings.
Without a doubt, LSU is not going to win a SEC title unless both Lange and Poche deliver quality starts on a more consistent basis.
“I haven’t talked to (Lange and Poche) yet because my focus has been on ULL,” said Mainieri at his pre-practice press conference Wednesday afternoon. “I know (pitching coach) Alan (Dunn) worked with both of them (Wednesday).
“My message to them will be the same. ‘You are our dudes. You have to be at the top of your game. You need to be the leaders of our team. You are going against the top two pitchers on the other team each week. You have to go into every game assuming it will be low-scoring and tight.’”
There has been a vast difference in the good and bad SEC outings for Lange and Poche. Lange gave up three runs and 15 hits in 16 innings against Florida and Texas A&M. In starts against Georgia and Arkansas, Lange lasted a total of only 8.2 innings in which he allowed 11 runs and 14 hits.
The pitching lines are almost identical for Poche. He yielded three runs and 15 hits in 14 innings against Georgia and Texas A&M. In starts against Florida and Arkansas, Poche gave up 11 runs and 15 hits in 7.1 innings.
Here are the important statistics for both hurlers. In their two good starts, Lange walked two and struck out 19 and Poche walked four and struck out 11. In their two bad outings, Lange walked nine and struck out 14 and Poche walked six and struck out four.
Both pitchers brought up the same issue when discussing their problems – location of their fast ball.
“It’s just fast ball command,” said Lange, who will start the series opener against Ole Miss on Thursday. “Teams are laying off my off-speed pitches and waiting on my fast ball. The Georgia game got away from me a little. Against Arkansas, I pitched out of some jams. But, I threw a lot of pitches and ran out of gas.
“I wish I knew the reason for having fast ball command one day and not the next. If I did, I would fix it. Sometimes, it’s a feel thing. Sometimes, I’m pulling off or I may be rushing. If I can repeat my delivery, the fast ball command will be there.”
The same words came out of Poche’s mouth when asked about the difference in results.
“It’s just fast ball command,” said Poche, who will start Friday against the Rebels. “When you see a pitcher have a rough outing, more times than not it’s because of fast ball command. You get in counts favoring either you or the hitter.
“When you make a mistake in a pitcher’s count, you can still be all right. If you make a mistake in a hitter’s count, you are going to get hurt.”
A week ago, Mainieri was concerned about the status of his bullpen. Following the Arkansas series, he decided to move freshman Zack Hess from midweek starter to set-up man in the bullpen. In the Tigers’ 3-2 victory against UL-Lafayette on Tuesday, everyone saw Mainieri’s plan work to perfection.
Hess got five outs in the sixth and seventh – four by strikeout. Three of the four strikeouts came with a runner at third base and less than two out. Then, Caleb Gilbert threw a scoreless eighth and Hunter Newman tossed a perfect ninth to get the save.
“The bullpen has given me a lot more confidence in it now,” Mainieri said. “You can see why I moved Zack Hess to the bullpen. We did not have a pure strikeout pitcher in the bullpen. Hess can strike guys out. Thank the Lord that Hunter Newman is back healthy. Where would we be without him?”
Now, Mainieri hopes his two veteran starting pitchers begin to be more consistent. Neither Lange nor Poche is flustered by what has happened recently.
“I just do the same thing week in and week out regardless of the results,” Lange said. “My preparation is the same. My confidence is not wavering. I am just going out there trying to give the team the best chance to win.”
Poche is trying to get something positive out of the two poor performances.
“It’s been a case of me just getting back to work,” Poche said. “I am doing my routine between starts. I did not forget what happened last week. I am trying to learn from what happened and stay positive.”