HOOVER, Ala. — The same pitcher who walked off the mound without recording an out in his LSU debut has now shoved against the No. 1 team in the nation twice in three days at the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
Cam Sanders has been something of an enigma for LSU this season. At times he’s been a useful long reliever capable of gobbling up scoreless innings. Sometimes he’s looked like he couldn’t find the strike zone with a map.
LSU coach Paul Mainieri has maintained since the early days of fall practice that Sanders had perhaps the best pure stuff on the team, and that if it ever clicked for the big right-hander, he could be a force to be reckoned with.
It took all regular season, but Sanders might be discovering the elusive element of consistency needed to make his coach’s prediction come true.
Sanders has been downright dominant in two outings against No. 1 Florida during the SEC Tournament. He’s allowed just two hits and hasn’t issued a walk while striking out eight in 5.1 impressive innings.
“I just wanted to prove myself,” Sanders said Saturday after LSU finished up an 11-0 domination of the Gators. “I didn’t have the season I expected, but coming into the tournament is like a whole new season. I cleared the slate and came out with a mindset of go out and get em.”
Stating the obvious, the key for Sanders has been throwing strikes. He’s got a mid-90s fastball with downward movement and a wicked overhand curveball, and this week he’s seemingly trusted his stuff and dared opposing hitters to hit it.
The results have been a revelation as LSU locks itself into a spot in an NCAA Regional next weekend.
“I thought Cam Sanders was electric,” Mainieri said. “That’s two times in a row here that he’s thrown like that, and that gives us a lot of hope going into the NCAA Tournament that we’ve got another power arm down there in the bullpen that it looks like we can count on.”
The emergence of Todd Peterson as a shut-down closer and now Sanders gives LSU two power arms in a bullpen that no longer is the glaring weakness it was just a few weeks ago.
Their performances, coupled with strong showings from the likes of Matt Beck, Austin Bain and Devin Fontenot, has made the relief corps a focal point of LSU’s unexpected run to the SEC Tournament Semifinals.
Counting Beck’s start, since he’s a reliever who made a spot start, the LSU bullpen has logged 25 innings through four games in Hoover. They’ve allowed just six earned runs and struck out 18 during that span.
“I feel really confident,” Sanders said. “If I can keep going and building off this, and our staff keeps it going, then we’ve got a really good chance to do something big here.”