With Jaden Hill shelved for the rest of the 2021 season, LSU baseball has a significant hole that needs to be filled with its third weekend starter on the mound. Every year is different but it feels like in recent memory, LSU has been pretty set in stone with its weekend rotation.
There was the trio of Cole Henry, Landon Marceaux and AJ Labas as the consistent three starting pitchers in 2020. The year before that, Marceaux, Zack Hess and Eric Walker were counted on as starters. Back in 2017, Alex Lange, Jared Poche and Walker were the weekend starters.
This season, Hill, Marceaux and Labas were supposed to be the three guys to roll with for the weekend starts but with Hill now gone, there is a giant role to fill and three freshmen stand to be in the running for the Sunday start.
Will Hellmers, Blake Money and Garrett Edwards figure to be the three Paul Mainieri and pitching coach Alan Dunn settle on for the third start of the weekend. All three have shown signs of sustainability in multiple innings.
Hellmers has started all but two midweek games, carrying a 5-1 record with a 3.46 ERA, allowing 11 runs with 29 strikeouts in his 11 appearances on the mound.
"Will's been taking care of business on the midweek games and been coming in on the weekends," pitcher Devin Fontenot said. "He's done just about everything to be a freshman. He's kind of been in every situation you can think of."
Edwards drew the start this past Tuesday against McNeese State just to give Mainieri and Dunn a different feel of what he looks like as a potential starter. The freshman out of Pitkin, Louisiana started against ULL but it's been Hellmers that's drawn the majority of the midweek starts since.
In two innings against the Cowboys on Tuesday, Edwards didn't allow a run on two hits with three strikeouts. He carries a 2.93 ERA, allowing 15 hits to go along with 17 strikeouts in 15 innings of work. Mainieri said that Edwards has been lobbying for that Sunday job, sending him multiple text messsages over the last week about wanting to help the team out in that role.
"He wants badly to be that third strarter," Mainieri said. "He was really politicing for it and believes he can give us five plus innings and he's got a lot of confidence in himself. He did a nice job for us.
"Garrett's got good stuff, he started earlier in the year and we got confidence in him," Fontenot said.
Money hasn't yet drawn a start for the Tigers but has been the pitcher Mainieri feels comfortable going with whenever a starter is having a rough time and needs to go three or four innings. In nine appearances, Money has thrown 18 innings with four of those outings going two innings or more.
Like Edwards, Money has a lot of confidence when he takes the mound and consistently throws in the 93-94 mph range when at the top of his game.
"All three of those guys have done a great job for us. There's four freshmen pitchers that are not only doing a terrific job right now but are gonna bode well for the future," Mainieri said. "The more experience they get, the better their secondary pitches develop, I think all of them will gain velocity and gain confidence and more experience on the mound."
Mainieri wants to hold off on naming a starter until Sunday because he doesn't want to pigeonhole LSU into one specific player before the other two games are over.
The reason behind that is that if LSU is in a tightly contested game and could use one of the three to help pull out a win from the bullpen, Mainieri doesn't want to have a situation where one might not be available because that pitcher has already been announced as a starter.
Whichever route the coaching staff decides to go, Fontenot and the veteran pitchers on the staff have complete trust in the freshmen who have proven themselves multiple times early in the season.
"These guys are ready. You can tell with each game they're getting more and more comfortable and more confident in themselves," Fontenot said. "Whoever gets the ball I think is going to get the job done for us."