TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Baseball giveth, and baseball taketh away.
To drive that point home, take a look at the two halves of Jared Poché’s senior season thus far.
He was about as close as a pitcher can be to being unhittable over the course of his first five starts this season, going 5-0 with a minuscule 0.25 ERA. Included in that was a seven-inning no-hitter and a 32-inning scoreless streak, the second-best mark in school history.
In his five starts since then? Not so much.
Granted, this has all come against Southeastern Conference opponents, so it was natural for Poché to come back to earth. But he has gone 1-3 in his last five starts with a 7.77 ERA.
In three of his past five starts, he has allowed as many or more base runners as he has recorded outs.
In a start against Ole Miss, he mostly pitched well, striking out nine in seven innings. But that start also included four solo home runs, which ended up being the difference in 4-1 loss.
When asked about the root of Poché’s recent struggles, LSU coach Paul Mainieri said, “it’s like everything: command.”
In his first five games, Poché showed remarkable command of his three-pitch repertoire. He issued just four walks in 36 innings, hit just one batter and threw one wild pitch.
In his past five, he has walked nine, hit four batters and has uncorked three wild pitches in 24.1 innings. But beyond that, he’s getting behind in counts.
“A lot of 1-0, 2-0, 2-1 counts,” LSU pitching coach Alan Dunn said. “It’s very hard to pitch in this league in those counts and Jared knows that. That’s one of Jared’s strengths his whole career. He’s been a guy that has always put himself, for the most part, in favorable counts.
“When you do that, you give yourself, the percentages are in your favor a lot more.”
Without a big fastball or a knee-buckling breaking ball to get him out of tricky situations, Poché is vulnerable to the big inning when he’s not locating his pitches like he’s accustomed to.
“Sometimes you wonder how he does it,” Mainieri said, before providing his answer. “He does it with moxie and he does it with courage and he does it with rising to the occasion to make the big pitch. But he has to have the command, he has to have the control.
“When he’s not getting the strikes, making the pitches and getting the called strikes, it turns the count around, and it makes it more difficult for him.”
Even as Poché has had his difficulty lately, Mainieri is not planning on bumping him from his No. 2 perch in the rotation. Just this week, Mainieri said Poché enjoyed one of the best bullpen sessions of his four-year career.
Poché will toe the rubber Friday against Alabama, and LSU’s expectations will still be high.
“Baseball happens,” said Alex Lange, in his third year with Poché in the LSU rotation. “People will say, ‘Oh, did he lose it?’ But if you look back at the beginning of the year, he was the greatest thing ever.
“That’s baseball. That’s how it happens. That’s why this game is so crazy and why it sometimes sucks so bad. You can be at the top of the world one day, and the next thing you know you can’t throw strikes. We’ve all been there. I don’t think this will last long for Poché.”