Alex Lange isn’t the cocky type.
He’s a mild-mannered, composed and intelligent 19-year old from the Midwest.
But earlier this week, LSU’s highly touted freshman pitcher couldn’t help himself when speaking about the Kansas Jayhawks.
“I’m ready to get some Kansans out,” he quipped with a smile.
He got 15 of them out in 19 tries – and seven in the most brutal of ways.
Lange made his debut Saturday afternoon by striking out seven batters through five innings, allowing two hits, no runs and escaping a couple of jams in LSU’s 8-5 win over the Jayhawks at Alex Box Stadium.
“That was an amazing performance,” coach Paul Mainieri said. “It’s almost scary to think how good this kid can be, especially working with (pitching coach) Alan Dunn.”
The Tigers (2-0) secured the season-opening series win and had a seven-hit, seven-run fifth inning a day after having just six hits in the series opener. They had to survive some anxious moments late because of a bullpen that allowed a whopping eight hits and five runs.
Still, this game wasn’t about those loud bats – LSU had 11 hits and jumped to an 8-0 lead – or, even, those struggling relievers. It was about a guy nicknamed “Flamethrower.”
Lange, a hard-throwing rookie from just an hour’s drive from KU’s campus, began his career in style: His opening pitch was a 95 miles per hour strike, and he struck out his first two batters.
Lange had six strikeouts in his first three innings. His fastball hovered in the 91-94 range, and he displayed an 84-85 mph curveball that coach Paul Mainieri has raved about during preseason.
“I’ll remember this moment forever,” Lange said surrounded by more than a dozen media members.
He pitched out of pair of rough spots, too. Lange hit a batter to start the fourth, and Blair Beck took him for a one-out double in the fifth. A double play ended the fourth, and Lange retired the final two in the fifth.
His 71-pitch outing ended after the fifth. He gave way to Kyle Bouman, expected to be LSU’s long reliever. Bouman allowed a pair of hits before KU third baseman Tommy Mirabelli slammed a three-run homer – the first of his career – over the right field fence.
Alden Cartwright and true freshman Austin Bain each allowed a double in relief appearance, but both were able to end innings with men in scoring position.
Bain pitched the eighth and ninth innings. Kansas (0-2) had the tying run at the plate three times in the ninth, but the rookie induced a forceout, flyout and groundout.
“You’ve got to let these kids go through this,” Mainieri said. “It’s hard on the coach’s stomach. My heart was beating pretty fast. These are the experiences these kids have to get so they can be good at them later on.”
The Tigers’ bats on Saturday were enough to cover Bouman and the bullpen’s woes.
Jared Foster, starting for Jake Fraley in left field, had a two-out blooper in the fourth, and LSU then exploded for that seven-run fifth inning.
Mainieri’s group batted 13 in the frame and chased Kansas starter Ben Krauth, ruining his first career start. LSU got run-scoring doubles from Conner Hale and Foster in the inning and took full advantage of Kansas freshman reliever Ryan Ralston. He threw a wild pitch and walked his first two batters in a half-inning that lasted 27 minutes.
“It was fun. Good to get some hits,” said Foster, the former LSU reserve quarterback expected to be a contender for the left field starting spot. “I was just having fun. You go out there with a good attitude and have fun.”
Seven of LSU’s nine position starters had a at least one hit, and, even, freshman Beau Jordan got in on the fun. He had an infield single in a pinch-hitting role in his first career at-bat.
The offense through two games, though, hasn’t completely pleased Mainieri. LSU has scored in just four of 16 innings, and the Tigers have had 20 popouts over the two games.
“Honestly, as a team there’s a lot of improvement we can make,” he said. “We’ve hit an awful lot of popups and made a lot of easy outs. If we truly want to be known as a really good offensive team, we’re going to have to be tougher outs.”
His starting pitchers, at least through two games, have impressed against a Kansas lineup that returned five of eight starters from last year’s regional squad.
Sophomore Jared Poché and Lange have combined to allow four hits, zero runs and nine baserunners through 11 innings. They have struck out 12 and walked two.
Another rookie, Jake Godfrey, gets his shot Sunday in the series finale, set for 1 p.m.
Lange lived up to his billing in front of a paid crowd of 10,903 in a picturesque day. His much ballyhooed first start came after some nervous moments Saturday morning.
He slept fine Friday night, but then he had to – you know – wake up. The nerves crept in.
“They were rushing through me back at the apartment when I woke up while I was eating breakfast,” he said. “Once I got here, I kind of got into the routine of being at the Box, being another game, playing baseball, going out and doing what I’ve done my whole career.”
A guy who had 114 strikeouts in 68.1 innings as a freshman last year in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, Lange showed off more than his heater. He struck out most of his batters with a hard curveball that hovered in the mid-80s.
It’s a pitch that Mainieri compares to the one former LSU star Anthony Ranaudo used to toss.
“I’ve always been known to throw my curveball harder than most,” Lange said. “It’s a late pitch, and I like to throw it hard. It works for me.”
A lot of things were working for him Saturday, a debut he’ll never forget.
“The kid was really outstanding,” Mainieri said. “He showed that he’s going to be a special pitcher.”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @DellengerAdv.