LAFAYETTE — The last month and a half has been an vexing time to be Louisiana-Lafayette sophomore pitcher Wyatt Marks.
In this weekend’s Sun Belt Conference baseball series against Texas State (21-17, 9-6), the Cajuns (25-12, 10-5) are hopeful that up-and-down performance trends upward again with a slight change in frame of mind — and pitch selection.
It started when he was knocked around in back-to-back outings against Troy and Little Rock, giving up a combined nine earned runs and 12 hits in five innings.
He followed those rough starts up with three consecutive quality starts against Georgia State, Arkansas State and Georgia Southern, going at least six innings with at least six strikeouts in each appearance.
It looked as though Marks had gotten over his hiccups against Troy and Little Rock, until he was pummeled for six earned runs in 2.1 innings against Southeastern Louisiana last weekend.
“The weekend before he only gave up two runs and pitched well, we just didn’t score for him,” coach Tony Robichaux said. “(Against Southeastern), I just think he just didn’t use his fastball enough, which is not that big of a fix.”
The key to his early success this season might also have been his undoing last weekend.
Marks possesses an excellent slider. He used it to devastating effect in starts against Texas Tech and Sacred Heart. In one five-batter sequence against the Red Raiders, he used the pitch to get a called third strike four times.
Where it becomes dicey is when he starts to rely on his slider as a primary pitch instead of setting it up with his other pitches.
In that Sacred Heart start, Marks didn’t have great fastball command. His reliance on his slider was on full display in that game when he fell behind a batter 3-0, then threw three consecutive sliders to get back in the count before ultimately walking the batter.
“It’s one of my favorite pitches,” Marks said after that start. “Today I had a little trouble spotting up my fastball, so I had more confidence spotting up my slider.”
Instead of taking him out of the weekend rotation — which was a consideration Robichaux and the Cajuns coaching staff made before ultimately deciding to keep him in his Saturday spot — the Cajuns want to try to get Marks back on track by getting him to set everything up with his fastball again.
“He needs to pitch off his fastball better,” Robichaux said. “He’s pitching off the slider instead of pitching off the fastball. That’s all he really has to do, is just flip his brain and get back to pitching off his fastball, locating his fastball and then using his slider instead of trying to pitch off his slider.”
Robichaux also had recent history on his side when deciding to give Marks another shot in the weekend rotation.
Marks and the Cajuns will line up against Texas State this weekend, and Marks had a ton of success against the Bobcats in his freshman season.
In two starts against the Bobcats, including one in an elimination game in the conference tournament, Marks was electric.
With the wind blowing out in an April game in San Marcos, Texas, Marks struck out 11 batters — mostly using his fastball — in just 5.1 innings of a 13-3 win.
In his Sun Belt tournament game against Texas State, Marks was coming off a disastrous start. He lasted just a third of an inning in a tournament game against Troy, giving up five runs. But Robichaux stuck with him and slotted him for the start against the Bobcats two days later.
Marks responded by striking out eight in seven scoreless innings.
The Cajuns aren’t without options if Marks can’t rebound this weekend. Sophomore right-hander Evan Guillory has been fantastic in his last three mid-week starts, and he spent much of last season in the weekend rotation.
But Marks has also shown the ability to be a dominant No. 2 option for the Cajuns, and Robichaux thinks he sees a simple path to getting him back to that point.
“In Wyatt’s case, it’s not a big deal or a big adjustment he has to make,” Robichaux said.
• Cajuns: LHP Gunner Leger (4-2, 2.56)
• Bobcats: RHP Lucas Humpal (5-2, 2.55)
• Cajuns: RHP Wyatt Marks (3-4, 5.20)
• Bobcats: RHP Jeremy Hallonquist (3-3, 2.84)
• Cajuns: RHP Nick Lee (6-1, 2.96)
• Bobcats: LHP Cory Geisler (3-1, 2.80)