It was honestly one of the wildest 24 hours at Alex Box Stadium this pastt weekend and that's saying something considering all of the walkoffs, all of the unexplainable endings that have occurred in one of college baseball's most well known ball parks.
But underneath the clutch hitting, the game tying home runs and fantastic outings from the starting pitchers, an uneasy trend has started to form in the bullpen. For three straight games against UTSA, LSU carried a lead into the eighth inning and in all three games, the Tigers' bullpen was unable to put the game away.
Coach Paul Mainieri and pitching coach Alan Dunn had a long conversation about where the bullpen goes from here and they came to the overall conclusion that it's not as dire as many would presume.
"We went over everybody on the pitching staff. Obviously some of the guys, it was a little bit cause of concern but I think when you take a closer look, a lot of them performed ok," Mainieri said. "We had a very tired pitching staff. It was a long week, many of them threw multiple times. I think tomorrow they'll come back refreshed and have a lot more life in their arm."
There are several pitchers that Mainieri feels very confident throwing in an SEC setting. The Tigers open up conference play with No. 2 Mississippi State at the Box for a three game series starting Friday.
The first few names out of Mainieri's mouth were freshmen. Garrett Edwards, Ty Floyd, Blake Money and Will Hellmers are all players who Mainieri feels will have major impacts out of the bullpen. Orginally, the plan was for Hellmers to settle into that starting midweek role but with some of the struggles last weekend, Mainieri and Dunn have pivoted in that thinking.
Hellmers will start against Southeastern on Tuesday evening but will likely have a pitch limit in place so that he could be ready for a Sunday game against the Bulldogs this weekend.
"We talked about that a lot this morning and we're not 100% sure yet," Mainieri said. "We're going to see how the game is going, how Will is throwing, what his pitch count is. No matter how much we see him pitch, we're gonna put a limit on him so that at least he'd be ready for Sunday in some capacity."
Both Edwards and Floyd feel like future stars for this pitching staff and each have had their moments of success and failure. For example, Mainieri was really impressed with the way Edwards bounced back on Saturday evening after allowing UTSA to tie the ball game in the ninth.
Edwards responded by striking out two straight batters with the bases loaded as the Tigers eventually won in extra innings.
As for the veteran pitchers on the roster, Mainieri hasn't lost faith in Ma'Khail Hilliard, Devin Fontenot or Aaron George. Fontenot has had some difficulties remaining consistent but on Saturday he threw a clean inning of relief and looked, as Mainieri described him, "like the old Devin Fontenot."
"He threw with much more conviction then we've seen so far," Mainieri said. :He was out there grunting and groaning and really cutting it loose and competing. Instead of just feeling for it which is the Devin Fontenot that we know.
"I'm not really in a panic mode about the bullpen as people may think. The positive is that our starting pitching was so outstanding, we've just gotta sprinkle a little magic dust on the guys down there and hopefully it'll get better for us."
Photo courtesy of LSUsports.