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Notebook: Alan Dunn Dishes on Tigers' Pitching Staff

by Cody Worsham
Notebook: Alan Dunn Dishes on Tigers' Pitching Staff

The sample size is small, but it’s been a good start for LSU’s pitching staff through four games.

Pitching coach Alan Dunn is pleased with the progress of his arms, which includes a mixture of talented freshmen and proven veterans.

Dunn said the plan is to bring Eric Walker back out of the bullpen Friday night against Bryant after the sophomore shined in that role last weekend. A Sunday starter for the Tigers as a freshman, Walker missed the 2018 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

In his first appearance in 20 months, Walker threw 2.1 scoreless innings against UL-Monroe last Friday, striking out two and allowing just a single hit.

While Walker could return to the weekend rotation at some point, the staff wants to maximize his mound time for now, which means Friday relief work and a Wednesday start, if all goes according to plan.

“The last time we all saw him was 2017 in Omaha. Now, you see him walk on that mound 17, 18 months later, that’s a good feeling,” Dunn said. “To watch him pitch, I saw some of the same things – his command of his fastball was really good. He nibbled the edges. He stayed within himself. His stuff, velocity-wise, was very similar. The secondary pitches are still coming. That’s only going to come from mound time, game competition, facing hitters.”

Another standout performer so far has been closer Todd Peterson, who has two of LSU’s four wins to his name this season. Peterson touched 98 miles per hour in relief on Tuesday against Southeastern, and he’s already struck out three batters in 2.1 scoreless innings out of the pen.

Dunn said he was most pleased with Peterson’s strike-throwing against the Lions, as the junior threw 83 percent of his pitches in the zone.

“A guy that throws the ball in the strike zone late in the game is so critical, and he’s always been a strike thrower,” Dunn said. “Combine that with the stuff we’re seeing, now you’ve got a guy we feel can be a dominating guy on the back end.”

The Tigers also got two quality starts out of freshman arms last weekend, and both Landon Marceaux (Saturday) and Jaden Hill (Sunday) are lined up for their second starts of the season this weekend. Marceaux went 5.2 innings against Army, allowing just one run on two hits and striking out five. Hill, meanwhile, threw 5.0 innings, allowing one run on four hits and striking out eight in his debut.

Both displayed uncommon poise, back-breaking offspeed stuff, and fastball command in their starts, but Dunn has been most impressed with their mentality as young pitchers.

“They’re really poised beyond their years,” Dunn said. “For pitchers, knowing who you are is critical, and they have that sense about them. Both of them had really, really good work weeks, and they’re ready to go take the ball in their turns.”

Dunn also sang the praises of catcher Brock Mathis, who he called a steadying force behind the plate for his young staff. Mathis, who will likely handle all of the catching duties until Saul Garza is cleared to catch later this season, has yet to allow a passed ball in 36 innings of error-free baseball.

“He’s been doing an awesome job managing the staff, coming in the dugout, getting on the same page. He gives them confidence,” Dunn said. “If you see a breaking ball in the dirt, he’s eating it. That guy is battling, battling, battling. He’s giving great targets, the tempo – I’ve been really pleased with what he’s brought to us from a defensive standpoint and nursing those guys along.”

Smith Joins Elite Company

Kramer Robertson. Greg Deichmann. Chris Chinea.

And now, Josh Smith.

On Tuesday, Smith reluctantly joined a rare and successful club in the lore of LSU Baseball when he took an eighth inning pitch off of his face and sent a scare through his head coach.

“Whew,” said Paul Mainieri, who Tuesday said he saw LSU’s season flash before his eyes when Smith was hit. “It was a scary, scary moment. Thank goodness he seems to be okay.”

Smith did not leave the game, later scoring the go-ahead run. On Thursday, the only remnants of his injury were two small cuts on his lip and a frightening memory.

“That didn’t feel very good,” Smith said. “It scared me at first. I took my hand off my face and I thought there was going to be blood everywhere, but there wasn’t. My face was pretty much numb for the rest of the game.”

Smith isn’t the first Tiger to take a baseball to the face in recent years. Chinea caught a 93 mile per hour fastball to the chin in 2015 but finished the season hitting .344 with 11 homers. In 2016, Robertson lost a relay throw in the lights and busted his face up in the middle of an All-SEC campaign in which he hit .324. Deichmann suffered his facial injury during a February scrimmage in 2017, going on to hit 19 home runs in LSU’s run to the College World Series championship series.

Of all the injuries, Smith’s, scary as it was, seems to be the least serious.

“They’ve had pretty good careers here,” Smith joked. “Hopefully it will happen for me too.

“I probably got it the easiest out of all of them. They all probably had to have some work done on them. I just took some Advil and got some rest.”

Smith has started his junior season on fire, hitting .625 in 16 at-bats atop the Tiger lineup. That includes a team-high eight runs, a pair of doubles, and two runs batted in.

“Honestly, just to get back out there felt good,” Smith said. “If I’d have gone 0-for-10 for the weekend, it would’ve felt good to play and be healthy.”

News and Notes

  • Mainieri said Cade Beloso will start Friday at first base. The freshman has rotated with fellow rookie Drew Bianco through four games, and the lefty has hit .400 early in the season, including a three-run walk-off homer against Army on Saturday.
  • Lefty pitcher Easton McMurray underwent season-ending surgery this week, Mainieri said, which leaves the Tigers without a left-handed pitcher. “If given a choice, I wish we did have some,” Mainieri said. “I’m not going to lie about that. I give quite a bit of freedom to Alan to recruit the pitchers that he wants and Nolan (Cain) of course, they’re working very hard. They keep coming to me and the best pitchers they see are right-handed. I’d much rather have a quality right-hander than a mediocre left-hander.”
  • Sophomore Ma’Khail Hilliard and freshman Chase Costello will be unavailable out of the bullpen this weekend. Hilliard had a non-evasive procedure done on his shoulder this week, and Mainieri hopes he’ll make progress next week toward getting back into the rotation. Costello had soreness in his arm after pitching last weekend, but tests came back negative, and the Tigers hope to have him back soon.