<
>
Insider

Series preview: LSU vs. Appalachian State

BATON ROUGE, La. -- The LSU baseball team hopes for a hot start this weekend as it welcomes Appalachian State to Alex Box Stadium.

The No. 14 Tigers (4-0) have been white hot through their first four games, outscoring the opposition by a total of 44-6. That’s somewhat to be expected at this point of the season, however. LSU has won at least its first nine games in each of the past three seasons.

Last year’s squad started 11-0 and outscored opponents 114-36 before dropping a decision to Princeton.

The Tigers face off against Appalachian State (2-1), who put up two victories against Akron after dropping the season opener to George Mason last weekend.

This will be the teams’ first-ever meeting and will serve as the opening to a grueling stretch of eight games in nine days, including matchups with Grambling, McNeese State and Dartmouth.

Here are some things to watch out for as LSU continues to ease into the spring:

Flamethrowers: Most LSU fans should be aware by now, but just in case -- the Tigers’ weekend rotation this year has the potential to be something special.

LSU coach Paul Mainieri is returning to the same rotation as opening weekend, with sophomore righty Kevin Gausman (1-0) taking the mound Friday night against ASU’s right-hander Seth Grant (0-0).

Grant shutout George Mason for six innings last Friday and struck out eight batters, but didn’t factor in the decision. Gausman gave up the only runs of the weekend for LSU his last time out, although he struck out seven.

Ryan Eades (1-0) is back on Saturday for LSU after a sterling start a week ago in which he sat down eight batters on strikes in just five innings of work. He will go against Ryan Arrowood (0-0), who put up a 4.50 ERA in four innings against Akron.

Sunday sees the return of sophomore Kurt McCune (1-0), who led the way to a shutout of Air Force last weekend. He will go against a lefty in Rob Marcello (1-0)

All told, LSU’s starters gave up a total of two runs in their debuts, and they struck out a combined 19 batters during the course of the weekend.

If these guys are supposed to be the strength of the team, they certainly look like it early on.

Continued production: With all the lopsided scorelines at Alex Box Stadium, it seems like everyone is getting in on the action.

LSU has sent 16 different players to the plate during the first four games, and 13 of those have come away with an RBI. The Tigers are batting an impressive .333 as a team, a reassuring sight after the way the offense struggled in 2011. It is early, however.

There are a few sluggers that stand above the rest, and it will be interesting to see how they fare against a larger sample size of games.

Sophomore left fielder Jackson Slaid is crushing the ball for a .500 average. Junior first baseman Mason Katz -- long expected to be one of LSU’s best offensive threats -- is close behind at .417 and tied for the team lead with six RBI.

Behind them comes the duo of right fielder Raph Rhymes and shortstop Austin Nola. Rhymes is batting the same .417 as Katz and has five RBI of his own, although he has yet to manage an extra-base hit this season.

Nola’s average doesn’t look so gaudy compared to the others, but it’s still at an impressive .333. The senior has come up clutch in several spots so far, which is something he struggled with last spring, and has picked up six RBI.

For an offense that sputtered at times last season, these guys are the candidates to pick up the slack and get runs across the plate. It will be interesting to see who can continue the good form.

Eye on the ninth: Of course, the Tigers haven’t even needed one yet, but closer is just one of those positions everyone wants to know about.

Nick Rumbelow has taken the mound in the ninth inning in three of LSU’s four wins, but the Tigers' leads were at least four and as many as 19 in those appearances.

The sophomore has been solid, giving up just three hits and no runs in his time out of the pen. Mainieri said he plans to look hard at Rumbelow as the closer in the early going of the season.

But there is also Nick Goody to consider. The junior college transfer has two appearances -- one in the ninth against Air Force, another in the eighth against McNeese State.

Against the Falcons, he struck out the side to close the game. He’s given up one hit and no runs so far.

If the Tigers continue their tear, they won’t have to worry about their closer just yet. But it won’t stop fans from wondering who’s going to get the crucial outs once conference play starts.