Weekend Preview: Georgia

Jared Poche looks for a better start Saturday

Alex Box Stadium will play host to SEC baseball this weekend, as No. 6 LSU (18-4) faces Georgia (14-8) in their conference home opener. The Tigers will look to bounce back after dropping two games against Vanderbilt last weekend.

Paul Mainieri was a bit chipper on the eve of LSU's SEC home opener. Between giving a reporter a hard time for his weekend plans and poking fun at a cameraman's loofa-like microphone, the LSU baseball coach wasn't hiding his giddiness for conference action in The Box.

There's no question Mainieri and his squad have turned the page from last weekend's losses to Vanderbilt — Wednesday's rout of South Alabama surely helped — and the Tigers are more than ready to host Georgia this weekend.

"Everybody's excited, everybody's fired up about this," Mainieri said. "Let's hope for enormous crowds, a lot of fun and great Tiger baseball."

PITCHING MATCHUPS


Game 1 – 7 p.m. (COX Sports)
LSU – Jr. RHP Aaron Nola (4-0, 0.27 ERA, 33.2 IP, 4 BB, 48 SO)
UGA – So. LHP Ryan Lawlor (2-1, 4.50 ERA, 24.0 IP, 10 BB, 16 SO)

Game 2 – 6:30 p.m. (COX Sports)
LSU – Fr. LHP Jared Poche' (4-1, 2.22 ERA, 24.1 IP, 7 BB, 18 SO)
UGA – Fr. RHP Robert Tyler (1-1, 2.13 ERA, 25.1 IP, 5 BB, 17 SO)

Game 3 – Noon (no TV)
LSU – TBA
UGA – Sr. LHP Patrick Boling (2-2, 3.33 ERA, 24.1 IP, 9 BB, 13 SO)


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The visiting Bulldogs come to town after dropping two-of-three against Mississippi State last weekend. It's been a rollercoaster season thus far for Georgia, as the Bulldogs dropped six of their first eight games, then rebounded to win 11 straight before that series against MSU.

While this weekend may not feature the hype of a Top-10 matchup like LSU's series with Vanderbilt, Mainieri won't take Georgia lightly. And though there aren't any Tyler Beede-like arms on the Bulldogs' pitching staff, LSU's prepared to face a stiff challenge.

"Let's not be too quick to judge Georgia's pitching staff," Mainieri said. "I may say Vanderbilt has the best pitching staff in the country, but you may see three or four in the Top 10 from the SEC, and this is why it's called the SEC."

After struggling against the Commodores, Mainieri will look for a more inspired performance from his offense. Wednesday's big inning against South Alabama is a good place to start, and Mainieri doesn't want his batters changing their approach at the plate.

"Go in that batter's box and compete against that guy as hard as you can," Mainieri said. "Have an idea of what he's trying to do, but you can't get away from your game. I'm confident we have a good offensive team, just what we went up against last week was extraordinary."

The LSU hitters will face a tough test on Saturday, facing one of the top freshman arms in the country. Bulldog starter Robert Tyler was one of the best high school pitchers coming out of the state of Georgia last year, and he'll square off against the top high school pitcher to come out of Louisiana a year ago.

Jared Poche moves into the Saturday spot in the rotation after a less-than-stellar performance last week in his SEC debut. The freshman surrendered three runs in the second inning against Vanderbilt before coming out after 4 1/3.

But Mainieri's quick to remind everyone that even Aaron Nola had a rough go in his first SEC outing.

"I was really proud of the way Jared bounced back after giving up the three-run inning, and that was Aaron Nola-ish," Mainieri said. "Aaron has shown that's part of his makeup and it's also the mark of a championship pitcher. The thing that makes him great is he can have a rough inning and regroup and still keep his team in the game.

"Jared Poche did that the other day. He didn't pitch good enough for us to win that day, but he pitched well enough to keep his team in the game and keep us right there."

Poche moves up a spot in the rotation amidst some shuffling in the LSU pitching staff. The Tigers will be without reliever Alden Cartwright this weekend as he recovers from a strained muscle in his throwing shoulder. Kyle Bouman is also likely out after rolling his ankle earlier in the week.

That leaves the Sunday spot "to be determined" for the time being and Mainieri said any of the other nine pitchers not named Poche or Nola could potentially start in the series finale. That decision won't come until later this weekend, and Mainieri said he isn't going to alter the way he manages the series to account for that final game.

"I have found in 32 years of coaching that I'm usually a better coach if I just concern myself with one game at a time and not look too far ahead," Mainieri said. "Every time you try to save somebody for somewhere down the road, it always comes back to backfire."

Those LSU pitchers will have their hands full though against one of the conference's more productive offenses. The Bulldogs rank No. 2 in the SEC in on-base percentage and runs scored, tied with LSU in that latter category. Their 120 RBI is good for fourth in the conference and 215 hits puts them in third.

That puts the pressure on LSU's pitchers to keep down the threat, though Mainieri's optimistic his offense can keep pace. LSU has shown off its depth in recent weeks, and freshmen Jake Fraley and Kramer Robertson have seen a rise in their playing time. Look for Mainieri to keep fiddling with his lineup as he finds the most productive combination.

"There's a core of guys that are our everyday guys, that are going to be in that lineup every day," Mainieri said. "But the spots that aren't necessarily that way, it allows me to use several other guys and keep them sharp. And we're finding out some good stuff."

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