The worst mistake Eric Walker made during his start in Sunday's 7-6 win against South Carolina was not the full-count changeup he delivered to Alex Destino in the fifth inning, LSU coach Paul Mainieri said.
That pitch, which Destino launched into the right-field bleachers for a three-run homer and a two-run Gamecocks lead, only became an issue because of the pitches that preceded it. The full-count changeup, located down in the strike zone, was a quality pitch, and Destino put a great swing on it.
However, what disappointed Mainieri was the freshman right-hander being overly concerned about the runner on second base with two outs. Walker brought the count to 1-2 earlier in the at-bat, and Mainieri said Walker should have been more focused on putting Destino away.
Despite those mistakes against the second-to-last batter Walker faced, Mainieri said Walker had a better outing than his two previous starts.
Walker didn't last past the fifth inning starts against Kentucky and Alabama. Sunday's performance alleviated concern Mainieri had about his first-year pitcher.
"Overall, I thought Eric pitched well," Mainieri said. "If we would have gotten Destino out, he would have gotten us through five innings in pretty good shape. I thought his stuff was a lot better this time than his last two outings. I think he’s moving in the right direction.”
Walker gave up five runs on seven hits in five innings Sunday, but he said a mechanical correction helped give him more life on his fastball. Walker and pitching coach Alan Dunn reviewed tape of Walker's starts against Texas Tech and Arkansas, which helped him rediscover what he does well.
"The previous weeks, (my fastball) was in the 85-87 (mph) range," Walker said. "It’s not all about (velocity), but coming out with that extra life. I definitely felt like my stuff was a little bit better and a little bit better command of all my pitches."
Walker acknowledged that the grind of a regular season, on top of the pitches he threw in fall practice, took a toll on him in certain ways. He was a three-year starting quarterback for Martin High in Arlington, Texas, so pitching year-round has been a new challenge.
But Walker said he doesn't want to use that an excuse for any recent struggles.
"So year-around baseball, you get some fatigue that you don’t really realize, but I don’t think that’s a big factor," Walker said. "I think week to week, you just got to kind of turn the page. Really, that’s the biggest thing. But it is a grind, the whole season.”
Tigers leap in polls
After a series win against South Carolina, the Tigers moved up one spot to No. 11 in the D1Baseball.com and Perfect Game rankings. LSU also climbed one place in the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper top 25, checking in at No. 10.
The Tigers, however, saw no movement in Baseball America's new poll, remaining at No. 15.
Watson named top freshman
LSU center fielder Zach Watson was named the SEC's Freshman of the Week, the league announced Monday.
Watson went 5 for 10 in three games against South Carolina, driving in four runs and scoring two more. The Ruston native, who scored the game-winning run Sunday, stole two bases and was credited with an assist on defense.
LSU's next SEC series opponent was just swept at home by the worst team in the conference.
Auburn, a consensus top-10 team heading into last weekend, dropped all three games to Alabama. The Crimson Tide had won two SEC games before the Auburn series.
After Alabama won Saturday's doubleheader, Sunday's series finale lasted 6 hours, 36 minutes. The Crimson Tide won 11-9 in 15 innings. It was the longest game in Alabama history.