Pitching mechanics can be a little bit like a golf swing. Tinker too much with it in the middle of the round and the whole thing is libel to fall apart on you.
That, essentially, explains what happened to Ma’Khail Hilliard in his last start.
The freshman right-hander was having trouble getting a feel for his fastball in the first inning against Alabama. That ballooned into a complete loss of the strike zone as Hilliard walked five and hit two batters in three innings, allowing five runs to create a deficit LSU would never climb out of.
“Once I noticed that, I tried to change too many things with my mechanics,” Hilliard said. “That’s one thing you don’t want to do in the middle of the game when you’re pitching. You’ve got to trust in your stuff and adjust to the way you’re throwing.”
LSU coach Paul Mainieri expressed little concern about how the rookie would bounce back from what is only the second bad start of his season. After the other one, when South Carolina tagged him for eight runs in 2.2 innings, Hilliard went seven strong at Ole Miss for a win that prevented a sweep.
“Fortunately or unfortunately, he’s had that experience before,” Mainieri said. “If he didn’t have it in him, that never would have happened in the first place. And now that he’s had that experience and he has it in him, I don’t worry about Ma’Khail at all.
“I think he’s going to go out and pitch with the same desire and confidence that he always has, and I would be surprised if he didn’t pitch a good game, but baseball is funny that way.”
LSU will need something similar as Hilliard (8-4, 3.66 ERA) takes the ball on Friday night coming off a disheartening 11-4 thumping in the series opener at Plainsman Park.
Oh yeah, and Hilliard will be asked to do it against Auburn ace Casey Mize (9-3, 2.73 ERA), the presumptive first-overall selection in next month’s MLB Draft.
Mize is putting together the kind of season that’ll make LSU fans think of Aaron Nola. He’s racked up 124 strikeouts in 89 innings against just eight walks, which makes for a particularly Nola-like strikeout-to-walk ratio of 15.5:1.
“He’s probably going to be the No. 1 pick in the draft, and in fact I don’t think there’s much doubt about that,” Mainieri said. “He’s the best pitcher in the country, and I don’t know if there’s a close second. He’s had a terrific year. He’s got everything you want in a pitcher: command, great arm, competitor.”
However, as Mainieri went on to mention, all that ability hasn’t translated into success for the big right-hander in two previous outings against LSU.
Mize started a game against LSU last season and appeared against them as a reliever in 2016, and he wasn’t particularly effective either time. In total, LSU tagged him for eight runs on 10 hits in 6.2 innings, which equates to a ballooned ERA of 11.37.
“I don’t think those statistics are even relevant, but they give our kids some hope,” Mainieri said. “I’ll share them with them because of the old saying that he puts his pants on one leg at a time just like you do. Now he throws a lot harder than you do…”