Media Day: Mainieri talks pitchers, unionization, starting battles, etc.

Paul Mainieri enters his eighth season as LSU's coach. (Patrick Dennis | The Advocate)

Paul Mainieri enters his eighth season as LSU’s coach. (Patrick Dennis | The Advocate)

In his eighth media day as LSU’s baseball coach, Paul Mainieri spoke strongly against college athletes unionizing, touched on a certain hotshot freshman pitcher, discussed position battles and his early-season schedule.

We’ve got it all in the below nuggets. Before we get to that, here are links to some video interviews from Friday’s media day:

  • First, that unionization stuff. Football players from Northwestern are beginning a movement to unionize college athletics. Asked about it, Mainieri strongly spoke out against the movement. His answer in full:

I coach a sport that has 11.7 scholarships and has 35 players on the roster. I get a little upset with players that are on full scholarship that think they are the reason all of the fans are coming to the games. The third-string long snapper who’s on a full ride, getting a $200,000 scholarship over five years isn’t getting paid enough? Please.

My kids are going out here and working hard every day and some of them aren’t even on scholarship and if they’re on scholarship, their families are having to pay well over half the cost. It’s amateur athletics. That’s the thing that makes college different than professional sports.

I’m just not in favor of unionization. I’m not in favor of paying athletes beyond the full scholarships. I think the kids that have full scholarships ought to be grateful to have that. It gives them a chance to have a lifetime of earning with a college degree with a great university. There’s a lot of value to that. I’m old-fashioned maybe. That’s the way I feel about it.

I think this unionization thing would be a disaster.

  • To the players now… We mentioned a freshman pitcher being in the mix for a
    Jared Poche led Lutcher to a state title last season. (Patrick Dennis | The Advocate)

    Jared Poche led Lutcher to a state title last season. (Patrick Dennis | The Advocate)

    starting pitching gig in our intro. As we reported last week, that guy is Jared Poché, who’s in the group with Cody Glenn and Kyle Bouman competing for two spots – the No. 2/3 weekend starting slots. On Friday, Mainieri went further about Poché’s role with the team: “I think there’s a pretty good chance he’s going to be in our weekend rotation by the time we go to Vanderbilt (for the first SEC series in mid-March). He’s going to be a starting pitcher right out of the gate. He’s competing with Bouman and Glenn for those other two spots. I would not be surprised at all if Jared Poché emerges as a starter even as a freshman. Not a typical freshman.”

  • So what’s Poché say about this? Mainieri hasn’t really told Poché about his role. But we, the media, told him what Mainieri said. “That would be great,” Poché said, “to be able to pitch against a great team at Vanderbilt.”
  1. Glenn, Bouman and Poché continue to compete for two spots – the No. 2/3 starter roles behind ace Aaron Nola. The bullpen is a hodgepodge and that includes closer, an important position for the coach. He wants junior college transfer Brady Domanque for that role, but Domanque “hasn’t looked great” in practice of recent. Mainieri threw out names like Joe Broussard and Kurt McCune as other possible closer options, but the spot is “probably something that keeps me up at night,” Mainieri said. It’s clear Broussard and McCune will have big roles in the bullpen. They are “keys” to the pitching staff, Mainieri said.
  2. Catcher is still a three-man race between Tyler Moore, Chris Chinea and Kade Scivicque. Whoever of that group isn’t playing catcher will play first base, the coach reiterated.
  3. Conner Hale, a junior college transfer from Florida, is holding down second base, but freshman Danny Zardon, who battled at second with Kramer Robertson in the fall, is pushing Hale, Mainieri said Friday. Hale was moved to second after playing first base in the fall because Mainieri isn’t sure about starting a freshman at such an important position as second base. He echoed those thoughts Friday.
  4. Jared Foster is making a big push to be LSU’s starting left fielder, replacing Raph Rhymes. Foster is a former backup QB on the football team. “I’ll tell you a guy that’s really coming on … Jared Foster,” Mainieri said. “Jared’s become a real presence. He’s right up there as far as athletes on our team. Came here to play quarterback. Was so far down the depth chart he decided to focus on baseball. He’s been very inconsistent, but when he’s good, he’s really good.”
  • That covers what Mainieri said about the open starting spots. Now we’ll shift to scheduling. LSU opens the season with UNO on Feb. 14, but Mainieri said the Tigers had been scheduled to play Southern Cal in an opening series this season. Second-year Southern Cal coach, Dan Hubbs, canceled the series about 18 months ago and LSU scurried to find a replacement.
  • Mainieri thought, ‘Why not UNO?’ The coach spent the final two years of his college days at UNO playing for Ron Maestri, who returned to the dugout for the first time in years this season as the Privateers coach. Mainieri called Maestri “my mentor, my second father.” Said Mainieri about the series: “That’ll be very unique for me. Not sure I’m going to enjoy it that much. It’s going to be great to see Maes back in the dugout.”
Paul Mainieri and LSU went 0-2 in Omaha last year. (Bill Feig | The Advocate)

Paul Mainieri and LSU went 0-2 in Omaha last year. (Bill Feig | The Advocate)

  • Mainieri admitted that the reason for playing UNO, specifically, was to “simply help them christen their newly renovated Maestri Field.” However, field renovations aren’t complete and the game Feb. 15 will be played at Zephyr Field. LSU opens the season against UNO the day before at Alex Box on Feb. 14. Mainieri: “Opening day is going to be very special to me personally.”
  • What we haven’t discussed yet? Ace Aaron Nola. Mainieri says Nola is better than he was last season. “Believe it or not, he’s better. I don’t know if his numbers are going to be better,” Mainieri said. “I don’t know how they can be, but because he’s older, he’s got a year of experience under his belt … he’s stronger. I think he’ll hold his velocity deeper into the games. His curveball is a little bit tighter. His changeup is a little bit more deceptive with better arm action. And he’s still got the great command.”
  • Mainieri spoke somewhat extensively about LSU’s two losses at Omaha last year, even retracing the bottom of the ninth inning in the Game 1 loss against UCLA and how he decided not to bunt with no outs and a man on first. He did the same in our Q&A two weeks ago. About LSU’s 0-2 Omaha trip: “Don’t want to experience that again,” he said.
  • Always outspoken for more offense in the game, Mainieri did the same Friday. Mainieri hopes the new baseball, to be implemented next season, will add more offense to the game, offense that was stripped by the new bats. Mainieri mentioned UCLA, the national champs last season that used a bunt-heavy, defensive method to the crown. “I don’t think that if we hit .240 as a team like UCLA did last year and bunt every time somebody gets on base, I don’t think we’ll get out of the SEC. I don’t think you can win in the Southeastern Conference,” he said.