Dig Baton Rouge

The First Step

When Paul Mainieri took the podium for LSU baseball Media Day a couple of weeks ago, one of the points he drove home was that freshman Jared Poche’ has potential. Before the left-handed pitcher from Lutcher even had the chance to throw a pitch in a game for the Tigers this season, the eighth year LSU baseball coach mentioned that Poche’ has the chance to be special and could be the Tigers’ next Friday night start once Aaron Nola departs.

Mainieri’s enthusiasm for Poche’ became even more evident last Sunday in LSU’s 6-0 win over Grambling State.

Having already thrown five scoreless innings in his first collegiate start, Mainieri kept Poche’ out for a sixth. But after a lead off double, followed by a single, put runners at the corners with nobody out, Mainieri and pitching coach Alan Dunn did not call for a relief pitcher.

Throughout fall practice, they had seen Poche’ get out of jams like this. Now, it was time to if he could do it with the Alex Box Stadium lights on and fans in attendance.

“Coach came to the mound and told me, ‘find a way to get out of this, lets see what you’re made of,’” Poche’ said about his mound visit with Dunn. “I didn’t feel really any pressure. I just knew that I had to come out there and do what I needed to do to help the team win.”

The young southpaw immediately responded by forcing a harmless infield pop-up, a strike out and a ground out to keep the shutout in tact and earn his first win of the season.

“When they led off the inning with a double, I was kind of kicking myself because I planned on pulling him after five innings, but we wanted to build up his pitch count but also finish on a positive note,” said Mainieri on his decision to let Poche’ pitch the sixth inning.

“As it turned out, I think it was a good thing for his development.”

For Poche’, passing through a pressure situation with flying colors just gave him reassurance for any future adversity he may face on the mound against stiffer competition.

“That was big for me,” he said about finishing his outing on a high note. “Once Southeastern Conference play starts, I’m sure that I will be faced with a few jams like that.”

It was the ideal ending to a banner day for Poche’ who learned he would get the start from Mainieri two weeks prior to the season opener. Growing up in Louisiana during a time when LSU was the king of college baseball, he had always dreamed of pitching in the purple and gold.

When he came out for his first inning of work, the adrenaline from the moment helped get his fastball up to 93 miles per hour.

“That’s the hardest I have ever thrown the ball,” Poche’ said. “I was amped up because there was a big crowd here, the biggest that I have ever pitched in front of, so it was just really exciting.”

For Mainieri, Poche’s performance on the mound just makes his job even tougher as three players are vying for the two weekend starting pitching spots behind Nola. Both Poche’ and Kyle Bouman, a junior college transfer, excelled in their first starts for LSU and junior Cody Glenn will get his chance to defend his spot when the Tigers travel to take on Southeastern Louisiana on Wednesday.

But with Poche’, Mainieri sees more than just a talented lefty who has a three-pitch arsenal and that is what excites him most.

“I’ve said it all along that I think there is something special about him,” Mainieri explained. “He’s got that ‘it’ factor because he is a winner in addition to his talent. We got a glimpse at what he is capable of becoming.”

Poche’s winning pedigree dates back to his time at Lutcher where he was named a Louisville Slugger All-American as both a junior and a senior.

He was particularly impressive in 2013 when he posted a 12-0 record to go along with a miniscule 0.61 earned run average and 143 strikeouts in the 80 innings he pitched for the Bulldogs. After pitching a shutout in the 4A State Championship, Poche’ claimed just about every important award.

That includes being named the Class 4A Player of the Year, the Louisiana Gatorade Player of the Year and the 2013 Louisiana Mr. Baseball.

Even with all of the success on the diamond, Poche’s approach to baseball has always been the same, which has been to always keep working for more because baseball is that fickle of a game.

“The game of baseball is crazy in that anything can happen at any given time,” he explained. “I always just go out there and prepare for the worst. So far, though, everything has come out alright.”

Poche’ probably would have projected as a good Major League Baseball prospect out of Lutcher with his consistent fastball and knee-buckling curveball. But his commitment to LSU was so strong that professional teams viewed Poche’ as a player who would not sign a contract over attending LSU.

“It was a dream come true,” he said about signing with LSU. “I’ve been dreaming about pitching here since I was little.”

With his first start now out of the way, that dream has now become a reality and if there is somebody that is happier about that fact than Poche’, it is Mainieri.

“You can see why I am so excited about this kid,” said Mainieri. “I thought he did a tremendous job for his first career start.”

However, that praise does come with one little caveat.

“Obviously, the competition will continue to be ratcheted up,” Mainieri continued. “He’s not quite ready to win us a national championship just, but nobody is this early in the season.”

As the opposing teams get stronger in the midst of this race for a starting spot on a top ten team, Poche’ knows that he can’t celebrate too much over one successful start, or he’ll get passed up by the other guys that are just as hungry for the job.

But for a guy that understands that baseball can dish out cold serving of harsh-reality in an instance, he can take solace in the fact that he has built a solid foundation for the future.

“Everyone’s first start can be a little rough,” he said. “I was fortunate enough to have a pretty good outing … I have something to build off of.”

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