After the first start of his junior season, LSU pitcher Zack Hess examined tape of his pitching last summer, looking for an answer.
The Friday night starter on the No. 1 team in the country, Hess’ first outing did not go well. He gave up five runs (four earned) and was pulled after 3⅔ innings against UL-Monroe. So Hess looked at videos of his pitching last summer, when he allowed no runs over nine innings with the U.S. Collegiate National Team.
As Hess compared film, he noticed a difference in the height of his leg kick. It was lower against UL-Monroe.
“Naturally, your leg's going to land a little bit too soon and your arm's going to drag behind you,” said Hess, who will start again Friday night against Bryant. “When I elevate my leg more, that gives my arm time to catch up and get everything in sync.”
Who's starting, how to watch and what to watch for during LSU baseball's Friday game against Bryant.
Hess worked on the mechanical fix during throwing sessions throughout the Tigers’ practices this week.
“Let's hope the results are a lot better tomorrow night,” coach Paul Mainieri said.
In the weeks before the season opener, Hess tweaked his groin, delaying preparation and limiting him to a four-inning max, regardless of his performance. Hess walked the first batter he faced and allowed three runs in the first inning.
Though Hess retired seven straight batters at one point, he struggled to locate his secondary pitches, particularly his slider. Hess fell behind in counts, and ULM focused on hitting his fastball.
The only left-handed pitcher on No. 1 LSU baseball's staff, Easton McMurray, had season-ending surgery Thursday morning.
"I think if you look at that game," pitching coach Alan Dunn said, "he got in some counts that boxed him in."
Hess, who throws a mid-90s fastball and power slider, entered the season as LSU's undisputed Friday night starter after his performance last summer.
Hess began his LSU career as a reliever. He shone out of the bullpen in 2017, recording a 3.12 ERA as the Tigers reach the finals of the College World Series. LSU moved him into the starting rotation his sophomore year, and he pitched inconsistently, going 7-6 with a 5.05 ERA.
LSU still believes in Hess as a starter, but it wants him to throw strikes early in the count and locate his secondary pitches. He hopes the mechanical tweak with his leg kick will show Friday.
“I want to see him go out there and throw all three pitches for strikes with command, with confidence,” Mainieri said. “He needs to show he can throw more than one pitch with confidence. I think he will.”