LSU

Latz to take SEC Tournament opener for LSU

HILARY SCHEINUK/ADVOCATE/FILE 
 LSU starting pitcher Jake Latz (67) pitches against McNeese State in the first inning, Tuesday, April 12, at LSU's Alex Box Stadium, Skip Bertman Field in Baton Rouge, La.
HILARY SCHEINUK/ADVOCATE/FILE LSU starting pitcher Jake Latz (67) pitches against McNeese State in the first inning, Tuesday, April 12, at LSU's Alex Box Stadium, Skip Bertman Field in Baton Rouge, La.

Now clear of any setbacks, the end of Jake Latz's two-year tailoring begins at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium on Tuesday night.

Latz will start LSU's SEC Tournament opener against Tennessee, coach Paul Mainieri said Monday, three days after the touted southpaw made his SEC debut with a scoreless inning against Florida.

"This is something we've been grooming him for for almost two years," Mainieri said. "Obviously he's a kid with a lot of talent (that) we had high hopes for, but he hasn't been able to toe the slab because of his elbow. We hope those are all behind him now and we're able to continue to progress and he can be a vital force for us not only for next year, but for the remainder of this season."

An 11th round pick in the 2014 MLB Draft, Latz underwent surgery in November to correct a stress reaction in his left elbow -- the same elbow that cost him his entire true freshman season.

He made his collegiate debut against McNeese State on April 12, starting and lasting 1.1 innings, after which he suffered another setback.

Since recovering, Latz threw a clean inning against Northwestern State on Tuesday before his three-strikeout inning against the Gators in Saturday's 6-2 loss, where he showed more curveball control than in any other outing. Two of Latz's three strikeouts came looking at a curveball for a called third strike.

"That contributed toward the thought, certainly," Mainieri said. "Anytime you can mix in your offspeed pitches, it gives you a chance to be more successful. His curveball and his changeup may even be even better pitches than his fastball and his fastball is 92 (mph). The biggest thing though, in these couple outings that he's had, he's thrown the ball over the plate. For a guy that hasn't pitched to throw as many strikes as he's throwing is the most encouraging thing for me."

Mainieri said Latz's performance and how he feels between innings would dictate how long he pitches against a Tennessee lineup that has three lefties in its first six spots. Latz has yet to pitch more than 1.1 innings and hasn't thrown more than 36 pitches in an outing.

The announcement comes as a bit of a surprise given Mainieri's comments after severe weather halted LSU's series opener against Florida in the third inning. Alex Lange, who was starting on short rest, threw 39 pitches before the stoppage.

Mainieri said then he viewed Lange as the Tigers' starter on Tuesday in the SEC Tournament, but a staff sitdown after the series win against the Gators changed his thinking.

"Our No.1 priority, quite frankly, is to make sure Alex Lange remains healthy throughout his career and as well as throughout the rest of this year," Mainieri said. "We decided the most prudent thing for his sake, was to give him at least five days rest and wanted the normal side work, that type of thing. Hopefully he'll get a chance to pitch Wednesday. Obviously we're not looking past Tennessee, that's not why we're doing it, we're doing it for Alex's health and also for wanting to get Jake Latz this type of an experience and progress in his development."

Mainieri said Lange, Jared Poche, Riley Smith and Caleb Gilbert will all be unavailable against the Volunteers in a single-elimination game Mainieri said he's treating "like a championship game."

Should LSU defeat Tennessee on Tuesday, it would advance to play No. 4 seed Florida on Wednesday. Gators coach Kevin O'Sullivan said Monday he'd "probably" throw A.J. Puk in that game.

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