It all happened rather quickly.
Jake Godfrey entered in relief, threw four consecutive balls, walked his first batter and forced LSU coach Paul Mainieri to send Alden Cartwright to the bullpen.
Old Jake was back? Seemed that way.
“Back to the usual walking people,” a smiling Godfrey joked after the game.
Godfrey battled back from those early woes, retired his next seven batters and, eventually, capped his best stay on the mound in more than a month during LSU’s 6-2 series finale loss to Texas A&M on Saturday.
His outing had Mainieri, despite the defeat, on the verge of cracking a smile. Has LSU found something by moving Godfrey from the weekend starting rotation to the bullpen?
The hard-throwing rookie pitched a two-hit 2.2 innings, striking out three and continuing to flash that electric, sinking fastball he had earlier in the season. He’s touching 94 and hovering around 92-93.
Since his demotion to the bullpen two weeks ago, Godfrey has pitched six innings of relief. He’s struck out eight, allowed two hits, one run and walked three – one of those intentional.
His Saturday performance came against a team that entered the series with the Southeastern Conference’s second-best batting average.
“I feel like I’ve been turning the page ever since (moved into the pen),” he said. “Letting the fastball go and breaking stuff is working better.”
“He’s just cutting loose,” Mainieri said. “He’s not being tentative at all. He’s getting his breaking ball over. He’s not having to pace himself. He’s going out there and letting it rip.”
LSU (37-7, 14-6) heads into the final three weeks of the regular season in second place in the SEC, a half-game back of Vanderbilt, after winning the first two games of the series against No. 2 Texas A&M.
The Tigers host Alcorn on Tuesday before traveling to reeling Mississippi State (23-21, 7-14) for a Thursday-Saturday series that looms large in a bunched top half of the league. LSU is a game up on A&M (13-7 SEC) and a game and a half on Florida (13-8) heading into the series with the Bulldogs, the SEC West cellar dwellars.s
The Tigers exit the No. 1-versus-No. 2 showdown with A&M having not only picked up two wins – they’re seeing a group of young pitchers evolve in new roles.
Take for instance, Austin Bain. Moved out of the bullpen to replace Godfrey as the No. 3 starter, Bain have given up just five earned runs in his last three mound stays against SEC competition – a span of 17.2 innings.
And then there’s Doug Norman, a rookie who started the season as LSU’s No. 4 starter. After moving into the bullpen a month into the season, Norman has allowed two runs in 10 relief appearances – a stretch of 12 innings.
Russell Reynolds, moved from the midweek role to the pen, struck out two and allowed two hits in 1.2 innings of relief. A more telling stat on Reynolds: He’s inherited nine base runners this season and allowed one to score.
And, then, there’s Godfrey, of course.
It’s not all rosy. Closer Jesse Stallings is three for his last six in close opportunities, but, overall, the Tigers’ young relievers are eating up tons of innings with success.
“More guys that can do that the stronger it makes your staff,” Mainieri said. “We’re going to need a deep staff as we go through the rest of the year. I’m really happy for Jake Godfrey. He’s rebounded from being taken out of the rotation.”
Mainieri removed Godfrey as LSU’s No. 3 starter after the pitcher had a woeful back-to-back starts against Alabama and Kentucky. He didn’t get through the second inning in either and allowed a combined eight earned runs.
He’s now returning to a place – the bullpen – where he spent much of his sophomore year of high school. Godfrey was 6-1 out of the bullpen in 2012 at Providence Catholic High at New Lenox, Illinois.
That’s the year in which his fastball – a sinker – began to take shape. He started to hit upwards of 92 mph with it.
“That’s when I kind of turned the page,” he said.
He’s turning another one now as he works his way toward returning to his old role.
“Everyone wants to start,” he said. “Whenever that is, next year or years down the road, I just want to get back there.”
Outside of a mentality switch – “I’m letting it fly,” he said – Godfrey has a new pitch, shortstop Alex Bregman said.
“He was throwing a curveball earlier in the year,” Bregman. “Now he’s throwing a hard slider. It’s changed completely. He’s striking people out with that.”
Bregman isn’t surprised. After all, Godfrey out dueled star freshman Alex Lange during the fall season.
“Jake Godfrey and Alex Lange definitely have the best stuff on our team. No doubt about it,” Bregman said. “In the fall, Godfrey was better than Lange was. Season came around and Lange is unbelievable. Godfrey struggled a little bit, but freshmen are going to struggle. He’s overcoming that adversity right now.”
And he’s working on that bugaboo, the walks, too.
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @DellengerAdv.