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2021 Baseball Preview: The Starting Pitchers

Looking at the Tiger arms expected to lead the team through the season.

LSU Athletics

After two years of patiently waiting, it’s time to put Jaden Hill through the paces.

In 2019 Hill cracked the starting rotation as the Sunday pitcher, but after two starts was sidelined for the rest of the season with a shoulder injury. Given how he was from a small town in Arkansas and played third base when he wasn’t pitching, he didn’t take bullpen sessions until he got to college. According to Mainieri, the college workload was too much for Hill.

So in 2020 they eased him back into the role with a few bullpen starts where he went longer and longer, leading to him being inserted back into the rotation. He threw three scoreless innings against Texas and then threw four perfect innings against UMass Lowell. But he never got to get back into the bullpen, because you know...a global pandemic happened.

But there has been no bones made about it, Jaden Hill is the Friday night starter for LSU heading into the season. With a mid to high 90’s heater with movement and a devastating changeup, the right-handed Hill was ranked the #5 draft prospect by MLB last month. Of course, Hill has no experience going six or seven innings into a game, so expect him to be kept on a shorter leash than the rest of the starters.

And that’s quietly one of the strengths of this years team: the starting depth beyond their ace. Think back, how often in recent memory return both their Saturday and Sunday starter? It doesn’t happen that often, usually they leave, supplanted, or are promoted up the order.

I’m choosing not to dwell too much on the numbers because we didn’t even get to conference play last year and would be dealing with a small sample size, but the combo of Landon Marceaux and AJ Labas were perfectly solid last year. They didn’t blow anybody away, but they’re two experienced arms who know how to manage games, stay out of trouble when it’s avoidable, and minimize damage when it isn’t.

Marceaux is a junior righty that has a legitmate four-pitch arsenal. He cracked the starting rotation as a freshman in 2019 and had some up and downs due to the dreaded arm soreness bug that bit nearly the entire pitching staff, but before the 2020 season was cancelled was looking more and more consistent on the mound. If he and Hill can stay healthy and merely meet the most modest expectations of both of them, LSU is in good position to win quite a few weekend series.

AJ Labas returns as the Sunday starter, as much as somebody who only made four starts can return. The 6’3” righty has three pitches that he keeps within the zone well. Again, small sample sizes, but in his four starts in 2020 where he threw 25.1 innings, he only gave up one walk. In his career (79.2 innings), he only has 10 walks total. That’s consistency you don’t usually see out of a Sunday guy.

After being primarily a midweek starter in 2018, Labas sat out the 2019 season with a shoulder injury. But before the 2020 season was cancelled we saw flashes of what he could be in Houston when he and Oklahoma’s Dane Acker took dueling no-hitters into the 8th inning where Labas gave up a solo home run that was the difference in the game.

The next week against UMass Lowell, he threw six innings where he allowed eight hits and four runs, all earned. Obviously “take a no hitter into the eighth” isn’t a sustainable strategy, but if Labas can just be consistently halfway between the two LSU should be in a great position.

As far as midweek starters go, Brandon Kaminer returns as well after starting four midweek games before the season ended last year. Kaminer is a left-handed senior who relies on his changeup and slider often. We know that midweek starters can sometimes be pitcher de jour and subject to change at any moment, but to start the season I’d bet Kaminer gets the majority of the assignments.