After eight long months, baseball is finally back and for the first time since 2010 LSU heads into the college baseball season as the defending national champions.
The 2023 Tigers are my favorite team in history but as much as we don’t want to, we have to turn the page on the warm and fuzzy feelings that group gave us last summer in Omaha. The next item on the agenda? Try to go get No. 8.
I think you could make the argument that the 2023 Tigers had the best starting rotation in the country simply because they had Paul Skenes and you didn’t. Skenes had arguably the greatest pitching season in LSU history, so much so it got to a point where opposing teams would hold their Friday ace for game two because they knew he likely wasn’t going to out-duel Skenes. And even if you did survive Skenes you still had this guy named Ty Floyd waiting for you on Saturday and all he did was go 7-0 and struck out 27 in his two starts in Omaha.
The 2024 LSU starting rotation won’t have as high a ceiling as last year’s, but I think the group as a whole will be better thus producing a higher floor.
Around this time a year ago Jay Johnson said that if LSU wants to get where they’re hoping to go, Thatcher Hurd will have to pitch well in the biggest moments. Hurd made Johnson look like a prophet as the junior got the win in the national championship game against Florida where he went six innings and only allowed two runs, a pair of hits, and struck out seven. Things looked dicey for Hurd in the first inning as Florida jumped out to a 2-0 lead before Hurd recorded an out, but Hurd responded by retiring 18 of the next 20 batters he faced.
But it wasn’t just Game 3 against the Gators where Hurd came through, it was the entire NCAA Tournament run. Hurd pitched six total innings in two games against Wake Forest and only allowed one run; he came on in relief of Ty Floyd against Oregon State in the Baton Rouge Regional following a weather delay, pitching five innings and struck out 12 Beavers. In Omaha Hurd was 2-1 with a 2.25 ERA, 13 Ks and a .146 opposing batting average in 12 innings of work. If you expand Hurd’s numbers to the entire NCAA Tournament he was credited with three wins in four appearances, a 3.71 ERA, and 25 Ks in 17 innings.
Hurd might have had a rough start to 2023, but he showed us that it’s not how you start it’s how you finish. The junior righty is another year removed from the back injury that ended his freshman season at UCLA and he showed he’s nails when the lights shine the brightest. He’s earned the right to be LSU’s Friday night starter.
Behind Hurd in the weekend rotation will likely be some combination of Gage Jump and Luke Holman. Jump was actually a teammate of Hurd’s at UCLA but Tommy John surgery in the summer of 2022 kept him sidelined for the entire 2023 season. The lefty came out of high school as a top-50 prospect but only has 16 innings to his name, but the talent is certainly there. Jump’s fastball sits comfortably 92-95 and he has a curveball that can keep hitters off balance.
Luke Holman is transferring from within the SEC, leaving Alabama for the greener pastures that is Baton Rouge. Holman was Alabama’s Friday night starter and while I don’t think he emerges as LSU’s No. 1, he’ll be either a good No. 2 or a great No. 3. Holman’s fastball ranges from 91-93 and he also throws a slider that induces a lot of swings-and-misses.