OXFORD, Miss. -- The fastball, as Alan Dunn called it, would go off the plate and away. Ole Miss center fielder J.B.Woodman, already with a home run on the weekend, stood in the batter’s box ahead 3-0.
LSU starter John Valek III missed his spot. The ball did not tail far enough from the plate. Woodman put it out of the ballpark in center field for a two-out, two-run home run.
Sixteen throws later, the first pitch following a 46-minute rain delay, Cameron Dishon rocketed an RBI double down the third-base line as Doug Norman stood warm in the LSU bullpen.
Paul Mainieri lept from the dugout to remove Valek, his third starter that’s admirably filled a two-year-old hole for the Tigers pitching staff thus far but has recently run into rocky results.
“He just got hit,” Mainieri said. “After the rain delay, I tried to give him another chance to settle in there, and the guy smoked one in the left field corner.”
Valek recorded four outs on Saturday. He made just seven in his last start, an 11-8 win against Mississippi State where his offense lended a bit more support than Saturday’s two-run effort where 14 runners were stranded.
The culprit? A departure of Valek’s pinpoint command.
Box scores will not divulge the full story. Valek’s walked just one batter in his last two starts and hit another, but surrendered 10 base hits and seven earned runs.
Of the 10 hits, five came when Valek was behind in the count. Another, Dishon’s double, came on the first pitch.
“Been falling behind, getting in hitters counts, getting predictable,” Valek said after Saturday’s game. “They’re sitting on the fastball and they’re hitting it. I just need to be able to get ahead more and put them away with my offspeed pitches. I have to get in better counts. I’m just getting behind.”
Valek’s repertoire has been well documented. He does not possess overpowering pitches ala Alex Lange and his velocity isn’t that of his fellow southpaw Jared Poche. So, when Valek misses a spot, it can have worse results than when those two falter.
“He relies on command and letting the hitters get anxious in their counts,” Dunn said. “You have to do that by pitching ahead and he’s pitched behind the last couple outings. He pitched behind more than he had earlier in the year and the hitters are able to be a little more patient and put good swings on the mistakes you make. And you make mistakes in this league, you’re going to get hurt.”
Asked how concerned he was after two straight short performances, Mainieri said he hadn’t thought of the results in that manner yet.
Valek, however, was succinct.
“These last two weeks have been unacceptable and I just have to put it behind me,” Valek said. “Get better this week and move forward.”
Follow Chandler Rome on Twitter, @Chandler_Rome