Zack Hess feels pretty confident that he’s gotten to the bottom of why he struggled so mightily in his first start of the season against Notre Dame.
It wasn’t a mechanical misfire or a gameplan miscalculation that caused the sophomore right-hander to give up eight earned runs in 2.1 innings, but rather a subconscious subversion of what makes him effective as a pitcher in the first place.
Simply put, Hess thinks the rest will take care of itself if he stays true to himself on Friday night in the series opener of a battle of college baseball blue bloods against Texas at Alex Box Stadium.
“First start in an LSU uniform in about a year, I think I might have gone out there and tried to do a little bit too much,” Hess said. “This week I’m trying to trust my stuff a little bit more and compete in the strike zone. Not beat myself too much this week.”
Throwing strikes has been a bugaboo for the LSU starters throughout the first four games of the season, and it certainly plagued Hess in Saturday’s 10-5 loss to the Irish. He walked six and threw first-pitch strikes to only three of the 18 batters he faced before getting a quick hook.
So his plan for tomorrow night is simple: attack the zone with his mid-90s fastball and hard-breaking slider, and if the Longhorns hit it, so be it.
“I throw hard and have a good slider,” Hess said. “I can beat a lot of guys if I just stay in the strike zone. My mindset this week is just competing in the strike zone and letting my stuff work for me.”
LSU coach Paul Mainieri came away with a similar assessment and hopes Hess will rise to the occasional of locking horns with Texas ace Nolan Kingham, who fired eight shutout innings and struck out 10 in his own season debut against UL-Lafayette last Friday night.
Mainieri contends he’d always planned to flip flop Hess to Friday night after starting Caleb Gilbert in the season opener, and he pulled the trigger on the move ahead of this weekend as a show of faith in the big righty.
“I’ve always thought that if Zack was going to be a starting pitcher, he’d be a Friday night starter,” Mainieri said. “Now if he’s not a starting pitcher, he’s not a starting pitcher. But if he is a quality starting pitcher, he’s got the stuff to dominate. That’s the guy you want to throw on Friday night.”
Pitching coach Alan Dunn has put the process of getting Hess to be more refined and efficient with his pitches on hold for this week as Mainieri has placed a premium on simply logging as many effective innings as possible.
The Tigers are counting on Hess to set the tone after a first turn through the rotation in which four LSU pitchers allowed 20 runs (19 earned) in just 10.2 innings of work. As a result, LSU has come to bat in the bottom of the first inning trailing in three of the four games so far.
“He wants to prove himself to everybody so badly, and sometimes kids just hold on too tight. I think that’s what happened,” Mainieri said. “Now it’s his second start and he’s going to go out there and be who he is. He’s an emotional pitcher that’s going to cut it loose every pitch. He’s going to be who he is.
“If he gives us three innings, if he gives us five, if he gives us seven, whatever he gives us I’m going to take. I just want them to be quality innings. I’m not going to worry if he throws 25 pitches an inning and doesn’t make the seventh. I just want him to throw a good first inning and we’ll go from there.”
Considering Texas has pitched to a staff ERA of 1.25 through four games, LSU knows it’s going to have to put up some zeroes on the scoreboard if it’s going to be a winning weekend at the Box.
LSU – So. RHP Zack Hess (0-1, 30.86 ERA, 2.1 IP, 6 BB, 2 SO)
UT – Jr. RHP Nolan Kingham (1-0, 0.00 ERA, 8.0 IP, 1 BB, 10 SO)
LSU – Jr. RHP Caleb Gilbert (0-0, 10.38 ERA, 4.1 IP, 0 BB, 2 SO)
UT – Jr. RHP Chase Shugart (0-0, 0.00 ERA, 6.2 IP, 0 BB, 3 SO)
LSU – So. RHP Todd Peterson (0-1, 6.75 ERA, 4.0 IP, 4 BB, 2 SO)
UT – So. RHP Blair Henley (0-0, 1.80 ERA, 5.0 IP, 1 BB, 5 SO)
Game 1: Friday, February 23 – 7 p.m. CT
Game 2: Saturday, February 24 – 6:30 p.m. CT
Game 3: Sunday, February 25 – 2 p.m. CT
Alex Box Stadium, Skip Bertman Field in Baton Rouge, La. (10,326)
LSU – No. 15 by Collegiate Baseball; No. 22 by Baseball America
UT – No. 14 by Baseball America; No. 19 by Collegiate Baseball
LSU Sports Radio Network affiliates
Baton Rouge affiliate is WDGL 98.1 FM
Live audio and live stats at www.LSUsports.net
SEC Network+ – the games may be viewed at WatchESPN.com and the Watch ESPN app
Texas leads the all-time series with LSU, 21-10-1, and this weekend’s matchup marks the Longhorns’ first visit to Baton Rouge since 1999, when UT opened the year by winning two of three games over the Tigers. This weekend’s series is the first meeting between the schools since the 2009 College World Series Finals in Omaha, Neb., where LSU won two of three games over the Longhorns to claim the ’09 National Championship. LSU is scheduled to make a return trip in 2019 to Austin for a three-game series. LSU and Texas each have won six College World Series titles, which is the second-highest total in NCAA Division I history and trails only Southern California, which has 12 baseball national championships.