Ryan Eades is going to start a lot of big games as one of LSU’s top two starters this season.
It’s something he got used to last season, starting the regular-season finale at South Carolina in which the Tigers claimed the Southeastern Conference overall title.
He also started an elimination game in the SEC tournament in which Mississippi State sent the Tigers home earlier than expected.
He started against Oregon State as LSU finished off a sweep of the Baton Rouge Regional.
Then he started what turned out to be the Tigers’ final game, as Stony Brook won the winner-take-all finale of the Baton Rouge Super Regional.
Eades, who finished 5-3 with a 3.83 earned run average, pitched LSU into position to beat South Carolina, shut out Mississippi State for six innings, then struggled in the NCAA tournament.
The junior from Slidell and fellow right-hander Aaron Nola, who emerged as the No. 2 starter as a freshman last season, will be the Tigers’ top two starters this season. Coach Paul Mainieri said he will announce this week who will take over the role of Friday night starter that Kevin Gausman had last season before signing with the Baltimore Orioles after they made him the first pitcher drafted.
“We are all competitive pitchers,” Eades said. “Of course I want to be the (No. 1) guy. Whatever role coach puts me in, I’m going to go out there and give everything I have on the mound and put my team in the best chance to win.”
Eades did not pitch in any summer league last year as he focused on recharging his batteries and straightening out his mechanics.
“I worked hard this fall and had a good fall and figured out some things with my mechanics that I was doing toward end of last year that got me in a hole,” Eades said. “One thing would lead to another, and my elbow was dropping, and the ball was just flat. So I really did a lot of dry mechanic stuff, just drills over the summer to iron out that flaw.”
Pitching coach Alan Dunn worked with Eades on his mechanics and was pleased with what he saw in the fall.
“He had a great fall,” Dunn said. “He had a chance in the summer to kind of get away from it for a little bit, get his head cleared, let his arm and his body rest a little bit. He came back in the fall and threw the ball extremely well. I’m really excited about where he is right now.
“We’re looking for Ryan Eades to go out and be a horse for us. He has to be a horse for us. We’re looking forward to him doing that and just being Ryan Eades and letting his ability take over.”
Mainieri said Eades looks like a major-league pitcher, and he believes there’s a “strong possibility” Eades will be a No. 1 draft choice in the summer. He compared Eades’ talent to that of former Tigers standouts Anthony Ranaudo, Louis Coleman and Gausman.
“He’s got the body (6-foot-3, 198 pounds), he’s got the arm, he’s got the athleticism,” Mainieri said. “Ryan Eades has all that it takes to be a great pitcher.”
Eades said he might have been “a little tired at the end of last year” and Dunn said Eades battled through outings when he didn’t have his best stuff.
“Ryan had some very well-pitched games for us last year,” Dunn said. “One thing I know about Ryan Eades is that when you give him the ball, you’ve got a chance to win the game. He’s a competitor. He’s not backing down. He’s going to go until the ball is taken from him in the game.
“I think if you look at the couple of games at the end of last season where we thought maybe that Ryan struggled somewhat, (against South Carolina), he gave us five pretty solid innings to give us a chance to win the conference. He pitched six shutout innings against Mississippi State, and that was even without his best stuff. That tells you he’s a competitor. So those are the things that excite me about Ryan.”
Eades said “ironing out my mechanics helped out with my control” because last year he wasn’t consistently finding the same release point. His control sometimes suffered as he tied for the team-high with 28 walks in 94 innings. Gausman had the same number of walks in 29.2 more innings. Eades also had a team-high 15 hit batsmen, six more than Nola, who had the second-most.
“Every pitcher is going to walk guys, but trying to minimize it is the main thing,” Eades said. “I think I was able to do that in the fall and I want to be aggressive this spring and just go after hitters.”
First baseman Mason Katz said Eades was so sharp in the fall that he couldn’t remember if Eades walked anybody.
“Ryan has shown signs of being great,” Katz said. “We’ve all seen that Ryan can be one of the best pitchers in the country if not the best. That’s his level. He looked great this fall.
“He matured a lot on the mound and really learned the pitching aspect. He’s got a great arm. He can throw the ball 96 miles an hour if he wants to, but learning the mental side of pitching was where he really stepped up and had a great fall.”
The key is to carry that over into the spring.
“Ryan is a hungry kid,” Mainieri said. “He wants to win. He’s maybe the hardest-working player on pitching staff. Everybody on the team respects him. It’s just time for him to take it to another level.”