By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
HOUSTON — Perhaps being back in the Lone Star State spurred on an extra bit of oomph in Eric Walker’s giddy up. Maybe it was the chance to make his case to remain LSU’s third starter going forward in a Major League park. Who knows, the rookie may just be a morning person.
Whatever the reason, the rookie right-hander was dealing on Sunday.
Walker was razor-sharp in his third career start, firing six innings of one-run ball while striking out seven against Texas Tech, one of the nation’s best offensive clubs.
Walker didn’t factor into the decision because LSU’s bullpen surrendered a 3-1 lead in the seventh inning and the Tigers fell 5-4 in walk-off fashion, but the rookie’s gem stood out as an obvious bright spot in a 1-2 stint at the Shriners Hospitals for Children College Classic at Minute Maid Park.
“Eric Walker was phenomenal,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “We’ve always been high on him and knew that he could do it. I’m sure he had a lot of emotions being back here in his home state in a Big League ball park. I thought he handled himself just remarkably well.”
Walker certainly stated his case to remain LSU’s Sunday starter heading into Southeastern Conference play, though Mainieri said he hadn’t given it any thought yet.
The coach reiterated last week that the plan remained for he and Alan Dunn to make a decision between Walker and fellow freshman Zack Hess once both have made three starts. Hess will start one of LSU’s two midweek games this coming week.
Walker, who allowed four earned runs in nine innings of work during his first two starts, looked considerably sharper Sunday in Houston.
“I think I just kind of got back to being myself today,” Walker said. “I felt better than my other two starts, and I’m going to try to do the same things throughout the season. My first two starts I had to battle a little bit. Today it felt a little bit easier to go out and pitch my game.”
Mainieri attributed his rookie’s success to better command of his secondary pitches. Walker seamlessly mixed in his curveball and changeup, keeping the Red Raiders off his fastball.
The only run he allowed came on a miss-located fastball that Ryan Long crushed into the right-field grandstands for a solo home run. He scattered six hits — one of which he promptly picked off — and didn’t issue a walk.
“He mixed his pitches really well today,” Mainieri said. “Kept them totally off balance, and that was the key for him. He wasn’t just laying fastballs in there. He was mixing them well and got a lot of outs with his changeup.
“And that’s how he’s going to have to pitch. If he gets his off-speed pitches over, it speeds up his fastball, and his fastball is fast enough with good enough command that you’re going to have to take it seriously. He’s a consummate pitcher out there. He was tremendous.”