By Trey Mongrue
Outside of a rare midweek hiccup and the constant threat of torrential rain, things seem to be sailing smoothly for LSU with three weeks of the 2015 baseball season now in the books.
Paul Mainieri’s Tigers have been able to break out the brooms in each of the last three weekends, having swept Kansas and Boston College before doing the same to Princeton last week, culminating with a pair of wins in Saturday’s double header against the Ivy League school
“It was a good way to finish off the three game series,” said Mainieri. “They get a well earned day and will be ready to get back to work.”
A big part of the Tigers’ winning ways has been the effort given on the mound from the plethora of pitchers. Through their first 11 games, the Tiger arms have posted a Southeastern Conference leading 130 strikeouts to go along with a solid team earned run average of 2.54.
“I get more confident with every start every week. I haven’t been my best yet though.”
– LSU pitcher Jake Godfrey
– LSU pitcher Jake Godfrey
That dominance on the hill starts, of course, with the starters – Jared Poché, Alex Lange and Jake Godfrey.
Entering the season, Mainieri had a pretty good idea of what he was going to get out of Poché, who is the lone left hander and the only one with prior collegiate experience on the weekend rotation. It was the freshman duo of Lange and Godfrey that was such a wild card.
After all, at this time last year, both were still preparing and waiting for their senior baseball season in high school. Now, they are staring down collegiate hitters.
“I get more confident with every start every week,” said Godfrey, who opted for LSU despite being drafted in the 21st round of the 2014 MLB Draft by the Atlanta Braves.
“I haven’t been my best yet though.”
LSU is the only team in the SEC that is using two freshmen in its weekend rotation, which makes the numbers that they are currently putting up all the more impressive. However, all of that has been done within the comfy confines of Alex Box Stadium, once SEC play starts in two weeks LSU will start visiting hostile environments that have broken down young pitchers in the past.
But before that, the Tigers will take their first road trip of the season, a few hours on I-10 West for the Houston College Classic at Minute Maid Park in what could be perceived as a test to see how Lange and Godfrey handle pitching in a different environment.
“I’m glad that they are going to get to experience stepping on a different mound than what they’ve been accustom to,” said Mainieri. “I think that will be good for all of their developments.”
While it will be a road game in that LSU will be out of Baton Rouge, LSU will be the designated home team on Friday against Houston and Sunday Nebraska, making Lange’s start against Baylor on Saturday the only real away game for the weekend.
He doesn’t believe much will change in his routine, though.
“Even if you are the visiting team, it’s still just about going out and playing baseball,” explained Lange, who earned SEC Freshman of the Week honors after pitching five scoreless innings in his debut against Kansas.
“You have to go out there and throw strikes to keep your team in the game, it’s just that you don’t get to do it right out of the bullpen to start the game off.”
Whether he has pasted a fastball on the outside corner of the strike zone or spinning a hard breaking ball in the dirt to get hitters to chase, Lange has done a good job on the “throwing strikes” side of things. Through 16 innings of work, the Missouri native leads LSU with 22 strikeouts, while only issuing six walks.
Opposing hitters are only hitting for a .179 average against him in 56 at bats.
“I’m not really surprised, I saw it in the fall and it was pretty exciting to watch,” Mainieri said of Lange’s early season success. “He’s really cleaned up his delivery. If you would have seen him in high school, you would’ve been impressed with his potential, but he wasn’t nearly the finely tuned pitcher that he is now.”
Like Lange, Godfrey has made strides from high school, through fall practices, to now.
In 14.1 innings of work, he has recorded LSU’s lowest ERA among the starters, a 1.26 mark, having just allowed two earned runs.
However, he has had his issues in locating his pitches and getting ahead in the count. Not only has he issued nine walks to just seven strikeouts, but he is also averaging over 18 pitches thrown per inning – the most of any LSU pitcher on the staff.
The fear there is that many more long innings could wear down his young arm as the season extends into April and May. It’s something that Godfrey is looking to fix, and fix fast.
“I still have to throw more strikes and stay in the zone,” said Godfrey after earning his first career win on Saturday. “Those walks kill you and it seems like I keep walking people every game, it will come together though.”
The plan is for things to continue coming together this weekend in Houston as the Tigers prepare for one more series before diving into SEC play.
In a way, it’s fitting that both Godfrey and Lange will be pitching in a Major League Baseball stadium. They both plan on doing it again in the future.
“I’m really excited to get over there,” said Lange, who went undrafted out of high school because of his commitment to LSU. “Playing in [a LSU] atmosphere is awesome but a Major League park is a totally different game. That’s where we all strive to be.”