When on his game, Zack Hess can make some of the best hitters in the country look foolish with his slider. He possesses the ability to buckle hitters at the knees as it bends in for a called strike or get them to wave feebly as it dives out of the zone.
It’s a bit more hittable when the LSU ace doesn’t possess his best stuff on a given night, particularly if the opposition knows when it’s coming.
Vanderbilt aged Hess for a pair of long two-run homers off his slider in a 4-2 LSU loss in Nashville last Friday night. LSU coach Paul Mainieri revealed earlier this week that the Commodores knew when Hess’ slider was coming because he was tipping his pitches.
“We’ve looked at tape and it was something small that we think we can get corrected without much issue,” Hess said. “We worked on it in side sessions this week and we think we got it pretty much nailed down.”
Hess didn’t get into the specifics of what was signaling that the slider was coming for obvious reasons ahead of his duel with Mississippi State ace Konnor Pilkington on Thursday night at Alex Box Stadium.
The sophomore right-hander said he wasn’t aware of the problem during his start at Vanderbilt, but felt it was a relatively minor problem compared to the fact that his slider didn’t have its normal life on a cold night in Nashville.
“Hitting is a very hard job to do,” Hess said. “If you go out and execute your pitches and you’re hitting your spots, regardless of whether or not they know it’s coming, with my stuff, I should have some success. I didn’t have my A-game against Friday night.”
Hess expressed more concern about the fact that he was getting “too much around” his slider, which took away its downward action. Specifically the pitch he hung to Vanderbilt slugger Julian Infante for a two-run blast that landed atop a neighboring building behind the left field wall.
“If you can’t hit that pitch than you can’t hit in the SEC,” Hess said. “So I’ve got to do a better job of executing. It was just something to build off of, learn from and do better this week.”
Catcher Hunter Feduccia got a night off against UL-Lafayette after battling a sore arm over the weekend as Vanderbilt stole seven bases without being caught.
Senior Nick Coomes started in his place on Tuesday night, and Mainieri didn’t offer much of a hint whether the extra day or rest would have Feduccia recharged for the Mississippi State series.
“I hope so. We’ll see,” Mainieri said. “I’m going to go over and see how he’s feeling today and we’ll see. I’m not sure what we’re going to do tomorrow.”
For what it’s worth, Mississippi State hasn’t been as aggressive on the base paths so far this season as Bulldog teams of years past. Mississippi State ranks No. 11 in the SEC in stolen base attempts with 22, though they’ve been successful on 20 of those tries.
– Freshmen pitchers AJ Labas and Nick Storz won’t be on the active roster for the Mississippi State series, per Mainieri. Labas threw 89 pitches in his start against the Cajuns on Tuesday night and Storz has battled shoulder soreness this week.
– Using process of elimination, all of LSU’s other healthy players besides Labas will be on the 27-man roster. The injuries to Josh Smith, Brandt Broussard and now Storz doesn’t leave LSU with much in the way of extra players.