LSU baseball fans will have to change the way they think of this year’s ball club going into the 2016 season.
Without the deep slugging starting lineup from last season, the 2016 version of LSU baseball has a whole new identity.
Young bats in the lineup will be new, but more importantly, strong veteran starting pitching will lead this team.
It’s easy to point out the success of the presumed Friday starter and 2015 National Freshman Pitcher of the Year, sophomore Alex Lange, but the factor who puts LSU’s pitching staff at an elite level is the junior lefty, Jared Poche’.
Poche’ has made a very big effect for LSU since joining the team in 2014 after graduating from Lutcher High School.
In his freshman year, Poche’ emerged as a Saturday night starter, finishing 9-3 on the season, while holding a 2.45 ERA in 91.2 innings of work.
These numbers on most other teams would deem him worthy of a Friday night starter position, but former LSU standout and current Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Aaron Nola was on staff.
In Poche’s sophomore season, he went a bit more unnoticed with the emergence of Lange, but still finished with a solid 3.05 ERA through 109.1 innings and a 9-2 record.
The then-sophomore really flexed his muscle toward the end of season when he threw back-to-back clutch performances in the postseason.
The first was in the NCAA regional round of play where Poche’ blanked UNC Wilmington on 8.2 innings of work to advance the Tigers to their 21st Super Regional.
In the Super Regional against UL-Lafayette, Poche’ pitched well again, going 7.2 innings, giving up only one run and striking out seven batters, while advancing the Tigers to the College World Series.
Poche’ was rocked his final start of the season by TCU in the first game of the College World Series, giving up six runs on four hits while only going 4.1 innings.
Not letting last year’s memories get in the way, Poche’ remains focused on what lies ahead for the Tigers this season.
“I had that feeling of angst afterwards (the TCU game), but after taking the whole summer off and getting back out there in the Fall it was different,” Poche’ said. “It felt good to get back out on the hill, face some batters, and just get back to competing.”
With the mass exodus of senior and junior leadership from last season, Poche’ finds himself in a situation where he is now the one who needs to step up and be the leader of this very young team.
“For me it’s just taking the role day by day,” Poche’ said. “After playing my first two years and going into my third year, it’s everything I’m expected to do. Hopefully I can continue to have the success I’ve had and just having a little fun with my teammates.”
It’s an interesting situation that Poche’ finds himself in this spring, very reminiscent of his freshman year when all of the hype about the LSU pitching staff seemed to stem from one of the other LSU starting pitchers.
This season, it’s Alex Lange instead of Aaron Nola.
Opposing teams will be more prepared to face Lange this season, whereas at the beginning of last season, he was overlooked because of the dominance that Poche’ brought to the mound on Friday nights.
It seems as though the roles have reversed and that Poche’ will be able to take advantage of teams looking past him in preparation to face Lange.
As the coming season approaches, Poche’ is ready to play his role, no matter what it might be, for LSU in 2016.
“Coach hasn’t told me or Alex [Lange] for certain what night we will be pitching, but whatever happens, happens,” Poche’ said. “I’m going to go out there and compete whether I’m pitching Friday, Saturday, Sunday or the middle of the week.”
Whether Poche’ finds himself as the Friday or Saturday starter, he will have a significant effect, as he and Lange will combine for one of the best pitching duos in college baseball.
With great starting pitching as the cornerstone of LSU’s expected success, Poche’ will carry a heavy influence on the Tigers’ chances of returning to Omaha.
“I’ve got a lot of confidence in Poche’,” LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri said. “He’s like the ultimate warrior out there.”
Follow Alex Asaro on Twitter @ALpatrick1021.