LSU will kickoff its 2020 baseball season with a three-game series against the Indiana Hoosiers on Valentine’s Day weekend.
Although this weekend’s match-up is not as anticipated as a weekend in the Southeastern Conference, it is by no means going to be easy for the Tigers.
“We are excited for another season at The Box,” coach Paul Mainieri said with excitement. “Indiana is a good baseball club that a lot of people are overlooking. They are going to be a good test for us.”
Last season, the Hoosiers finished with a record of 37-23 overall, and 17-7 in the Big-Ten conference, which placed them atop the conference standings. Indiana looked to have a promising postseason run before falling in the Louisville regional.
LSU’s offense will get tested early as they will face a young but talented Hoosiers pitching staff. Despite losing two of their three pitchers from the starting rotation last year, Indiana is hopeful about Tommy Sommer and Gabe Bierman, who are most likely the faces that LSU is going to see on the bump Friday and Saturday night. Although junior Sommer and sophomore Bierman only started five games for the Hoosiers last season, they are the most experienced players coming back.
To shut the door at the end of games, the Hoosiers have a trio of options. Seniors Braden Scott and Grant Sloan and sophomore Matt Litwicki were all productive in their limited usage last season, and now have the opportunity to prove themselves in expanded late-game roles.
LSU, who is returning minimal experienced players to the plate, is going to have to produce early and often to keep up with a high-powered Hoosiers offense who hit .250 as a team last season.
For the Tigers, they will have the starting weekend rotation of Cole Henry, Landon Marceaux and AJ Labas, all of who were held to limited action last season due to some sort of injury.
Henry, who is projected to be a future first-round draft pick if he can stay healthy, served as the Tigers’ ace for the majority of the season, and looks to maintain the success he had last season. The hard-throwing right-handed pitcher has a three-pitch mix of a mid-90s fastball, hard 12-to-6 curveball, and late fading changeup. In his freshman campaign, Henry posted a 4-2 mark and a 3.39 ERA in 58.1 innings with 18 walks and 72 strikeouts.
Marceaux, who was in-and-out the starting rotation for the Tigers last year has improved immensely, as he has lost weight and changed his pitching motion to help improve his velocity. The Destrehan native started 14 games for the Tigers last season and is a very polished pitcher with a four-pitch mix and ability to command the strike zone.
“[Labas and Marceaux] are both so close in abilities that it could have easily been the other way around but we ended the season with Landon in game No. 2 so he’s got a little more big game experience,” Mainieri said. “I just thought that game two is such a pivotal game in the weekend series that we ought to go with a guy that had a little more experience.”
Labas is looking to make a large contribution to a deep bullpen after missing the 2019 season with a shoulder injury. In 2018, Labas Pitched in 13 games (10 starts), recording a 6-2 mark and a 3.48 ERA in 54.1 innings with seven walks and 32 strikeouts.
Mainieri had high praise for Labas and his progression in the off-season.
“AJ (Labas) was the highlight of the fall,” said Mainieri at his annual media day. “He probably out pitched everybody during the fall.”
Mainieri was not the only one who took a liking into what Labas has accomplished in his short time back.
“I hadn’t even seen him until this fall,” said Saul Garza. “When I saw him, he was electric. He was carving guys up, pounding the strike zone. That’s what we need out of a guy like AJ.”
The Tigers will open up their season on Friday, Feb. 14 at 7 p.m. at Alex Box Stadium, Skip Bertman Field.