Austin Bain’s fastball sat consistently at 89 mph, occasionally touching 90. A tailing, high, 80-mph changeup fooled Brody Wofford for a swing-and-miss strike three, Bain’s second strikeout in as many batters of Friday’s intrasquad scrimmage.
It was a good day.
Bain scattered those last season. They were frequently days after which he didn’t throw a heavy bullpen session. He recalls one on May 15, when he struck out seven over 6.1 innings of four-hit ball in Columbia, South Carolina, giving his team a share of a Southeastern Conference Western Division title that classmate Alex Lange helpd the team win outright a day later.
“I always go back to that (game),” pitching coach Alan Dunn said. “That’s the guy that showed you he has the ability to pitch at this level.”
Then came the bad days. Throughout the year, Bain had irritating pain in his right shoulder. Or was it everyday soreness that pitchers learn to endure?
The first-year Dutchtown High School product, a suddenly relied-upon back-end starter who had never experienced arm issues, couldn’t discern.
“I didn’t want to come off as soft, at the time,” he said. “So I just threw through it.”
Bain’s sentiment isn’t unusual. Young pitchers at all levels struggle toeing the line between keeping a roster spot and admitting a problem, often staying silent through arm pain. Their worth is determined and all contributions are made solely from the arm they fear is injured.
LSU coach Paul Mainieri recalled a recent conversation with former LSU star Aaron Nola, the seventh overall draft pick in 2014 who made his major league debut July 21, 2015, with Philadelphia.
Nola told his former coach of a particular six-inning outing. He came off and into the dugout after finishing the fifth and was met by his manager.
“You got one more in you?” Nola was asked.
“My shoulder was killing me; I was tired,” Nola told Mainieri. “Of course I’m going to say yes, I’m a rookie. I’m trying to make my way.”
Nola pitched the sixth without incident and was lifted after the inning.
“There’s a difference between being sore and being injured, and I don’t know how you tell that in your own body,” Mainieri said. “But the kids want to play, and that’s why you have to trust your doctors, trust your trainers, because most kids are going to err in the direction of ‘Hey, I want to play.’ So you have to make sure you’re doing the right thing for them all the time.”
Bain shipped off to Amsterdam, New York, for the Perfect Game summer league. He made one start, where his fastball topped out at 93 mph in the first inning but had dropped to 86 by the fourth, when his arm began to drag behind on his delivery.
He phoned home to a trainer, returned to Baton Rouge and got surgery to remove a bone spur in the joint, which had caused inflammation and swelling. Bain missed the entire fall season, focusing only on band work, strengthening his core and conditioning as he rehabbed.
Along with junior-college transfer Riley Smith, Bain is a top candidate to fill the vacancy at the back end of LSU’s rotation. The same spot the sophomore feared losing is again his for the taking, now prescribed for just good days.
“I’m feeling good,” Bain said. “Last thing you get after surgery is accuracy and timing, and I’m getting all that back now, so I’m getting better.”