By LUKE JOHNSON
Tiger Rag Editor
Freshman right-hander Alden Cartwright does not know if he’ll toe the rubber for his first Southeastern Conference home start or pitch out of the bullpen for LSU’s series against Tennessee.
What he does know is that he’ll be ready when his number is called, no matter what the situation.
"Whatever it takes to win,” said Cartwright, a Baton Rouge native. "If I throw Friday or Saturday it doesn’t matter to me. I just want to do whatever I can to help the team win and if that means throwing on Sunday, It means throw on Sunday.”
Cartwright (1-0, 1.74 ERA) has at least earned the chance to be an arm LSU coach Paul Mainieri can count on in SEC play. He fired four shutout innings in his first SEC start last weekend to help LSU clinch a needed series win against Ole Miss.
The start plugged a leaky hole for LSU, who had seen its Sunday starters get roughed up in previous outings. If things work out perfectly, he’ll likely find himself back out there this weekend. But Mainieri isn’t willing to declare Cartwright the Sunday starter just yet.
"I just don’t want to back myself into a corner and say I’m not going to use Cartwright in the first two games,” Mainieri said. "You never know what’s going to happen. We might have a 16-inning game and he might be the guy that I need to use. We’re just going to take it one game at a time.”
LSU pitching coach Alan Dunn said they keep Cartwright level by telling him there’s no difference between starting and relieving, the end goal is still the same.
"Get that leadoff hitter out, get the next hitter and the next, and if we need you to do another inning go out and do the same,” Dunn said.
Cartwright is fine with that. Whether he’s coming out of the bullpen or entering the game in the top of the 1st inning, he takes the hill with the same mentality.
He doesn’t care who is digging in to the batter’s box in front of him, he approaches each at bat believing he’s the better player.
"You’ve got to believe it when you go out there,” Dunn said.
Cartwright said he had plenty to learn from his first SEC start, namely to fill up the zone with strikes and let the defense do the work behind him. He needed just 44 pitches to get through four innings, walked none and allowed just two hits. He’ll be ready to go back to school Sunday if he’s needed.
Sophomore center fielder Andrew Stevenson – who leads the team in both batting average (.360) and on base percentage (.424) -- will start Friday’s game in the leadoff spot.
Stevenson started each of LSU’s last two games – both LSU wins -- at the top of the order, going 3-for-7 with two runs scored, but it’s too early to say it’s going to be a permanent look.
"It’s as permanent as the next game, let’s put it that way,” Mainieri said.
Mainieri said at the beginning of the year that he didn’t want to peg Stevenson as the leadoff man because he didn’t want him to let his brain get in the way of his natural athleticism. A leadoff man is traditionally supposed to see a high volume of pitches, draw walks and get on base.
But more than midway through the season Stevenson leads the team in both batting average and on-base percentage, and he doesn’t plan on changing his approach unless Mainieri tells him to.
"As of now I’m just going to keep doing what I have been doing unless coach tells me otherwise, to kind of back it down a little bit,” Stevenson said.
With a left-handed pitcher throwing on Saturday, LSU might drop Stevenson back down in the order a bit.
Senior Sean McMullen was moved to the middle of the order to accommodate Stevenson. His average isn’t near what it was last season, but he’s the far and away leader on the team with 20 extra base hits and he noticed the difference between the top and the middle of the order in his last game.
"Almost every one of my at bats was in an RBI situation,” McMullen said. "I love that. If hitting in the four-hole means I’m going to be in more RBI situations, then yeah, I’m excited to be there.”
Sophomore shortstop Alex Bregman, hitting just .159 in SEC play, also found himself moved down in the order in LSU’s last two games. He hit sixth in the series finale against Ole Miss, and fifth against Tulane on Tuesday.
Bregman laughed when asked if teams pitched him differently because of where he is in the lineup. It’s apparent that teams aren’t forgetting the fact that he was the SEC Freshman of the Year last year, when he hit .369 as a fixture in the three-hole of LSU’s College World Series team.
"If I hit (in the lineup) one, nine, eight, seven, six – wherever I hit – I’m going to get pitched the same,” Bregman said. "I’ve got to be able to adjust, do my job and not try to do too much.”
Tyler Moore will earn the start at catcher Friday night with Aaron Nola on the mound.
How good is Aaron Nola? We’ve spent plenty of words on his dominance. Here it is represented statistically.
- Nola leads the SEC in ERA (0.88), opposing batting average (.159), strikeouts (91, which is 17 more than the next closest pitcher) and strikeouts looking (33). He’s second in the conference in wins (7), and innings pitched (71.2). Oh, and he’s also tied for the conference lead in batters hit by pitch (9). You can’t be great at everything.
- He’s struck out 28 more batters than he’s allowed to reach base by hit, walk or hit by pitch.
- LSU is outscoring opponents 62-10 in Aaron Nola’s 10 starts this season.
Yeah, he’s really good.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Tennessee junior Will Maddox isn’t your prototypical first baseman. What’s not surprising from a man playing his position is the fact that he has a team-leading four homers and is near the team lead in batting average (.315). What separates Maddox from others at first base is his speed – he leads the Vols with 15 stolen bases on 20 chances, and he sets the table at the top of the Volunteers’ order.
- LSU – Jr. RHP Aaron Nola (7-1, 0.88 ERA, 71.2 IP, 15 BB, 91 SO)
- UT – Jr. RHP Peter Lenstrohm (1-1, 2.13 ERA, 25.1 IP, 8 BB, 16 SO)
- LSU – Fr. LHP Jared Poche’ (6-3, 2.59 ERA, 55.2 IP, 17 BB, 36 SO)
- UT – So. LHP Andy Cox (3-1, 1.62 ERA, 50.0 IP, 15 BB, 45 SO)
- LSU – TBA
- UT – Sr. RHP Nick Williams (4-4, 3.54 ERA, 61.0 IP, 12 BB, 46 SO)