Man, it feels good to talk about baseball again.
LSU's opening weekend, originally scheduled long, long ago in the Before Time as a home series with Southern Cal, was a hodge-podge of local opponents in a benefit "tournament" for the opening of the brand new MLB Urban Youth Academy New Orleans campus. Ron Maestri, one of the old ghosts of LSU's past, came back to nearly put a scare into his old pupil. LSU was also dealing with a skills and leadership drain after some of the key pieces of the 2013 Omaha team departed for their futures. The Tigers passed the challenges of the weekend with ease, but a few questions remain unanswered and some new ones will need to be dealt with before SEC play starts in 4 weeks.
Opening Night saw Aaron Nola pick up right where he left off last season with another dominant night, going six innings and giving up 4 hits, 0 runs, taking 6 Ks, and allowing no walks. The only odd part of his game was an uncharacteristic 3 HBP. Alex Bregman and newcomer Conner Hale each had 2 hits on the night, but the rest of the offense never really gained traction. The Tigers had 7 hits, but left 10 on base on the way to a 2-0 victory.
Saturday at Zephyr Field (in front of what looked to be a really great crowd for a non-Pontiff Classic game in Metairie) newcomer Kyle Bouman had a really good outing. After a shaky first where he gave up 3 2-out hits and a run, Bouman settled in for 5 IP and no more hits or runs. The LSU offense rallied behind the new starter and followed up his mistake with a 3-run second built on singles and smart base-running. The Tigers continued to chip away and built a 7-1 lead entering the bottom of the 6th.
Bouman was relieved by another newcomer in Brady Domangue who struggled with his command, loading the bases on 3 straight walks after one out. After UNO scored 1 on a sac fly, Domangue was pulled for Henri Faucheux (That's On-ree Faux-Shea for those of you not from LaPlace). Faucheux gave up a walk to reload the bases and a 2 RBI single to right before getting the third out. Faucheux would come back in the 7th and rebounded very well, striking out the side. Alden Cartwright followed for an uneventful 8th, then Parker Bugg took the mound for the 9th with a 7-4 lead. Bugg's control was not ready giving up a single and 2 HBPs and suddenly UNO had the bases loaded with 1 out and the winning run at the plate. Bugg steadied himself to record the final two outs by swinging Ks for the win.
Sunday against Grambling, coach Mainieri decided to pull some names from the bench and see who would take hold of an opportunity against a weak opponent. Jared Poche' had a very respectable 6 IP with 4 hits, 3 Ks and no walks. The offense was efficient, if not exactly overpowering, scoring 6 runs on 9 hits, while potential weekend (and this coming Wenesday's) starter Cody Glenn and relievers Nate Fury, Zac Person, and Hunter Devall kept Grambling stymied for the 6-0 shutout victory. Newcomer Kade Scivicque got the start at Catcher and was a nice 2-for-4 at the plate, while Kramer Robertson made everything of his start at second base to become the defensive MVP of the weekend with spectacular play like this.
What to take from the weekend? I think honestly the biggest development is that the mere presence of the legend Ron Maestri has done wonders for the "restarting from scratch" UNO Privateers. Sure they went 0-2 against LSU, but they were not the utter destruction wins one might expect against a club that only won 7 (SEVEN!) games last season, not to mention an outstanding 9-1 win (the most lopsided victory of any of the 6 games this weekend) against a Southern team that is expected to compete for, if not win the SWAC title. I'm not saying UNO is back by any means, they may not even get above .500. But don't be surprised if they catch a Tulane or a UL-Lafayette sleeping one Wednesday night this spring.
As for the Tigers, the biggest worry of the preseason, the bullpen, remains in much the same state as it was on Thursday. The returning Broussard, McCune, Glenn, and Fury had fine appearances on Friday and Sunday, while the new arms on Saturday of Domangue and Bugg (and to an extent Faucheux) had some kinks to work out and put the squad in some dangerous positions. There's plenty of time to work it out, but I was expecting to see a little better out of Domangue and Bugg. The new starters behind Nola of Bouman and Poche' had fine performances and we'll see how they continue to develop. There is also the matter of Cody Glenn starting on Wednesday to consider when trying to figure out the future of the weekend rotation.
The fielding defense looks fine, with just a single error by Chinea (playing 1B) on Sunday. None of the 3 catchers in Chinea, Moore, or Scivicque really separated themselves defensively or offensively at the position, though Scivicque's 3 for 10, 1RBI, 1 caught stealing weekend was marginally the best. Hale looked fine at 2B and had one of the better bats of the weekend, but Robertson stole the show on Sunday defensively and wasnt a slouch at the plate either. The outfield was speedy and used their talent to have a steady, quite weekend.
Except for Jared Foster. Foster had two games at cleanup after Bregman then was shifted down to the 6 hole on Sunday. He was fine in right field, but his performance at the plate was awful, going 1 for 13 with just a double on Saturday, the lowest BA of any of the regular starters. Foster spent most of the latter half of last season proving that his throwing arm alone is worth having in the lineup, but that bat may just be too much to carry. Still, it's an early season, and there is plenty of time to improve.
0/10 - Walk/Strikeout ratio of LSU's starting pitching this weekend.
10,495 - Days that passed between Sunday and May 24th, 1985, the day of Ron Maestri's last win as the UNO head coach.
545/538/636 - Slash line of The Machine Alex Bregman, who did not take Sunday's game off because Alex Bregman does not take days off.
40.50 - The ERA of Brady Domangue. Also cause to remember that early season stats can be silly.
28 - LSU's Left on Base for the weekend.
12,472 -Friday's Paid Attendance, Second-Largest Paid home crowd ever at LSU.
Sights of The Weekend
Rantz now interviewing "some dudes" in the dugout. pic.twitter.com/hjnktMpxdj— Pod Katt (@valleyshook) February 15, 2014
JUUUUUUUST a bit outside pic.twitter.com/leJ8Hl3dyK— Pod Katt (@valleyshook) February 15, 2014
Ben McDonald came straight from a little league game, didn't even change. pic.twitter.com/o6hILrLcbY— Pod Katt (@valleyshook) February 16, 2014
Another shot of that wrist band. It's got 125 pitches on a page pic.twitter.com/RM7ZL5OOtF— Pod Katt (@valleyshook) February 17, 2014
Kramer Robertson on his outstanding debut game - via Tiger Rag
Paul Mainieri after Grambling win - via Bayou Bengals Insider
Jared Poche on his first win - via Bayou Bengals Insider
The Week Ahead
Wednesday - @ Southeastern, 7pm, Cox Sports/ESPN3
Weekend - Hosting Va Tech, Toledo, and Texas Southern