Cole McKay struggled to ascribe it, finally settling on a divine agenda.
After he was named Baseball America’s 2014 high school Pitcher of the Year at Smithson Valley High in Spring Branch, Texas, the 6-foot-5, 228-pound right-hander with a fastball that touched 93 mph passed on the 2015 MLB draft — where some scouts estimated he wouldn’t last past the third round — to attend LSU.
Upon arrival in Baton Rouge, he toed the rubber.
“(Radar gun) says 86-87,” said McKay, who gets his first collegiate start in Tuesday night’s Wally Pontiff Jr. Classic against Louisiana-Lafayette at Zephyr Field in Metairie. “I was always used to going in there, throwing the ball hard and getting hitters out. And I wasn’t able to do that.
“I kind of just (threw in the 90s) naturally in high school. I don’t know how it got off, something I can’t explain; it’s just the Lord’s timing. Really glad that it’s getting back there.”
After a fall when he did not touch 90 mph, McKay’s velocity has gradually increased to his high school form, even touching 94 mph in his 13-pitch fourth inning against UNO last Wednesday, when he allowed just one hit — a grounder that careened off his shin and fell for an infield single.
The problem plaguing McKay is a common one, LSU pitching coach Alan Dunn said. Pitchers of all ages, especially those with high velocity, often overthrow the baseball, trying to muscle it over the plate and flying open while delivering it.
“We just made a couple adjustments, really trying to get the rhythm better, trying to get some fluidness to it to where he can repeat his release point,” Dunn said. “To where now you’re trying to hit that same release point with every single pitch and with the maximum amount of stuff with the least amount of effort.”
It took time. McKay admitted feeling despondent throughout his subpar fall, though Dunn is adamant his work ethic remained sterling. The two fixed his mechanical issues, and Dunn often would report the progress back to coach Paul Mainieri.
“(Dunn) comes in every day after working with him and tells me, ‘Boy, McKay is really coming on, really getting better,’ ” Mainieri said Monday. “I feel like his poise is growing, his confidence is growing and we want to see if he can be a guy we can really count on during the weekends. (Tuesday) night would be a really good trial for that.”
McKay won’t be alone in his audition. Classmate Brody Wofford, who now has delivered late-inning, pinch-hit RBI singles with his team trailing on two instances, will start at designated hitter against the Ragin’ Cajuns while Greg Deichmann goes to third base.
Wofford, who added 10 to 12 pounds over Christmas break and had coaches raving about his progress, cut LSU’s deficit to 4-3 during Sunday’s 7-5 win against Alabama with his eighth-inning liner up the middle.
“I’ve put some good swings on some balls when I got into the game. I guess (Mainieri) just wants to give me a shot and see how I do; hopefully I do well,” Wofford said. “I’m just going to try my best to pick out a fastball and put a good swing on it. If you hit the ball hard, good things will happen.”
Mainieri made the move, partly, due to an uncertain outlook for O’Neal Lochridge, who will miss at least another week with a stress fracture in his back.
“I just feel like when we go to (Texas A&M this weekend) we’re going to have to match them offensively, and I think (Wofford) gives us a little bit more offense,” Mainieri said. “We maybe are sacrificing a little defensively, but who knows? Maybe Greg will go out and play great at third base. But I just think we have to give ourselves a chance to match A&M’s firepower and get another bat in the lineup.”
Deichmann, who played third throughout the summer and worked there in the fall, will become the fourth Tigers third baseman in 19 games.
McKay likely will throw no more than two innings, Mainieri said. Dunn was careful to measure the pitcher’s progress.
Step one? Tuesday.
“He learns from his experience, and hopefully you build off of that and keep doing it,” Dunn said. “And you keep getting more confident, you execute pitches better and better and, before you know it, you’re the dude we brought here.”
Follow Chandler Rome on Twitter, @Chandler_Rome.