A struggling Toledo team came to Alex Box Stadium and gave LSU a good fight for almost seven innings Friday.
But Toledo’s chances were never going to be great on this night. Not when sophomore right-hander Zack Hess was pitching as well as he ever had in an LSU uniform, leading the Tigers to an 8-1 win.
"Boy, is that an uplift to our team when we get a start like that on a Friday night," LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. "He was in total control out there."
Hess was utterly dominant. He struck out 13 batters, almost exclusively with a vicious slider, and issued no walks.
"No walks, 13 strikeouts? That's a pretty good ratio," Mainieri said.
Hess strode off the mound after seven innings and 109 pitches with a two-run lead, and by the end of the game, LSU (6-4) had pulled ahead 8-1.
After a poor debut in the Tigers’ weekend rotation, Hess (2-1) has been phenomenal his last two starts, combining to allow just three runs while striking out 23 in 13 innings against just two walks.
Like his start against Texas last Friday, Hess was doing the majority of his heavy lifting with his slider.
"I think a lot of teams think I'm just a big guy who throws hard and is going to try to pump it by you," Hess said. "For me, being able to use the slider early in the count and show them I can get it in there whenever I want, that sets my heater up."
He used the slider liberally early in the count, keeping Toledo (2-6) hitters off-balance with a nearly 50-50 mix between his low 80s slider and mid-90s fastball.
It was most lethal with two strikes. Hess racked up 11 of his 13 strikeouts with his breaking ball.
The only trouble Hess had was in the third inning, when Toledo managed to force him deep into counts by fouling off several of his two-strike offerings.
Hess needed 29 pitches to get through the third — more than a quarter of what he threw the entire night — and 10 of those offerings were fouled off by Toledo hitters.
Designated hitter Zach Schwartzenberger greeted Hess in that third inning by stroking the first pitch of the frame for a double.
Two batters later, Toledo’s No. 9 hitter, John Servello, fouled off three consecutive two-strike pitches. He poked the 10th pitch of the at bat — a 96 mph fastball — down the right-field line for an RBI double.
That was it. Hess only allowed three more base runners for the rest of his outing, one of whom was erased on a double play. Like last week, Hess maintained his stuff throughout his start: His 109th pitch was a 93 mph fastball.
"There was no way I was going to let him go past 110 pitches," Mainieri said.
LSU had no problem putting runners on base against Hess’ starting counterpart, Toledo left-hander Michael Jacob (0-2), but it struggled to find the big blow.
Jacob limited LSU to three runs — all of which crossed the plate in the first two frames — over six innings. Only one of LSU’s seven hits against Jacob came with a man in scoring position.
But LSU blew the game open once it got to the Toledo bullpen. The first three LSU batters to face Toledo relief pitching walked, loading the bases for Hunter Feduccia.
Earlier this week, Feduccia came to bat in the ninth inning with the bases loaded and LSU trailing by one, and he ground into a game-ending double play. He did not waste his opportunity Friday.
Toledo right-hander Jake Stout grooved a 2-1 fastball that Feduccia drilled for a grand slam — his first homer in an LSU uniform — that made LSU's lead a more comfortable 7-1.
"It was an awesome feeling," Feduccia said.
Freshman right-hander Devin Fontenot fired two scoreless innings in relief for LSU.