Through 10 shutout innings, Jake Latz was cementing a spot in LSU’s weekend rotation, flummoxing a young LSU lineup with his low-90s fastball and a plus breaking ball he’s still yet to throw in a college game.
He jogged out for the 11th.
“It just kind of flared up all of a sudden,” Latz said Friday. “A couple warm-up pitches and then once I started throwing again, it felt like the same thing happened all over again. I had to tell them.”
Latz had another MRI and saw three doctors before surgery on Nov. 9 placed a screw near the bone in his throwing elbow. It now presented itself as more of a stress fracture than the originally diagnosed stress reaction that forced the freshman left-hander to redshirt last season.
The first arm injury of Latz’s baseball career now threatened to take away a second straight season.
“It was devastating,” Latz said. “I was down, didn’t want to talk about it. It was something I wanted to get past me.”
A four-to-six month rehab was forecast. Latz passed the 12th week of that rehab — a quarantined period inside the training room and away from teammates — Monday.
“You feel like you’re on an island,” LSU pitching coach Alan Dunn said. “You’ve got all that time to kind of mentally digest it. … I was hurt my whole career. I know what he’s feeling. It rips your guts out, man. Knowing that he put so much time into get back and then that happens.”
Dunn took a deep sigh Friday when asked about Latz’s brilliant fall that came to an abrupt finish. He and LSU coach Paul Mainieri spoke of one outing — a four-inning stint where Latz struck out seven.
The rotation that’s struggled to find a third arm for the past two seasons seemed to, finally, have its man.
“I had a strong feeling that he would crack our three or four-man rotation, and before you know it he’s going to be one of the top pitchers in the SEC,” Mainieri said. “When we get him, he’ll make us better.
Latz mentioned those high hopes. The high school accomplishments — he was the 2014 Illinois Player of the Year — and MLB interest Latz drew are well-documented.
Latz was the third-highest drafted high school player in that class — an 11th-round pick by the Blue Jays — not to sign a professional contract.
“Things happen for a reason and that’s what I was feeling in my heart when I chose my decision,” Latz said. “I’m going to stick with it and not look back. There’s no telling what would have happened. But this is what happened, this is what I chose, this is my life and I’m going to roll with it.”
He hopes to begin playing catch by next week. Latz has heard of players pitching six weeks after that, but he’s hesitant to set any timetable. Mainieri’s “holding out hope” for a late April return.
High school teammate and current roommate Mike Papierski sensed more positivity from Latz, who he’s known since he was 8, in the past two weeks. Latz says he wasn’t depressed.
A self-described man of God, Latz spent the weeks following the surgery in prayer, rationalizing that he was put through this two-year ordeal for a reason and the lessons it has taught him can strengthen his resolve.
“I’m happy at myself that I was able to stick through it all,” Latz said. “Hopefully, I kind of feel that this is all going to pay off in the end and once I’m ready to go, I’m going to show what I’m made of.”