Cole McKay stepped off the mound and pumped both fists.
The 6-foot-5 LSU pitcher was celebrating strikeout No. 5 — in two innings.
McKay made the most of his short stint as a starter Tuesday night in the Tigers’ 8-5 win over UL-Lafayette at a packed Zephyr Field on a windy night in Metairie.
“They took a big chance on me starting today,” McKay said. “They felt like I made a lot of strides lately.”
The true freshman mixed a 90-93 mph fastball with a filthy breaking pitch he used to sit down at least three of those five batters in the first start of his career. Coach Paul Mainieri put McKay on a two-inning limit — a test run for the big Texan ahead of a three-game series at Texas A&M starting Thursday.
“I loved what I saw,” Mainieri said. “Thought he threw the ball really well. Couple of hits, but he made good pitches.”
Through those two frames, he tossed 41 pitches and faced nine batters, striking out five, walking one, allowing two hits and a run on a wild pitch. McKay entered the game having thrown just 3.1 innings in four games in the first 19 games of the season, as he built up his velocity after a disappointing fall.
He arrived at LSU (15-5) this fall as a highly recruited prospect who the staff felt, at one point, could have passed on college for Major League Baseball. The hard-throwing right-hander was a top-100 player in the draft class — mostly for that 90 mph-plus fastball.
In the fall, though, McKay’s fastball didn’t have as much sizzle.
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 a 13-pitch fourth inning against UNO last Wednesday.
“(Velocity) has been getting back up there,” McKay said. “Thank the Lord it did because it was down for a while.”
Said Mainieri: “Looks like a guy whose confidence continues to grow and he’s ready to help us.”
Jake Latz continues to make progress back to full health.
Latz, LSU’s injury plagued redshirt freshman left-handed pitcher, threw from an elevated surface on Tuesday for the first time since his latest setback, Mainieri said Tuesday.
“He wasn’t 60 feet, 6 inches away, but he was on the slope of the mound, which is a little bit different than throwing on the flat ground,” Mainieri said ahead of the game against the Cajuns.
Mainieri is “cautiously optimistic” about Latz and said he’ll throw from an elevated surface again soon as he recuperates from a stress fracture that flared up during fall practice. The Illinois native remains on track to return in mid-April, Mainieri said.
An MRI on LSU catcher Mike Papierski’s left thumb revealed “a little bit of structural damage,” but the sophomore will not need surgery, Mainieri said.
Papierski could have started in Tuesday night’s game against the Cajuns, the coach said, but he started Jordan Romero instead. Papierski is available for the series at A&M, and he entered in the sixth inning Tuesday.
The victim of a botched hit-and-run, Papierski hurt the finger when he was caught stealing in Saturday’s 4-3 loss to Alabama, sliding into the defender’s foot.
Purple or red?
For the first time since a March 8 game against Tulane, freshman Dylon Poncho was in the Cajuns’ starting lineup.
Maybe it was because of his history with LSU.
Poncho, who played at Kinder High School, originally committed to LSU, but ultimately made his way to the Cajuns. Coach Tony Robichaux used Poncho as the designated hitter in the No. 5 spot in the lineup and picked up the first hit of the day for either team with a base knock to right field to lead off the Cajuns second inning.
LSU outfielder Antoine Duplantis’ career-opening 19-game hitting streak ended Tuesday.
Duplantis, a freshman from Lafayette, began his career with a hit in each of the Tigers’ first 19 games. He flew out three times, and his fifth-inning groundout to the pitcher moved a runner to third base. Beau Jordan brought home Jake Fraley later that frame.
Duplantis fell one game short of tying Blake Dean for second among LSU freshman hitting streaks. Duplantis’ streak was the longest to begin an LSU career since 1997.