On Sunday, injured LSU freshman pitcher Jaden Hill threw from the front edge of the mound at a distance a little shorter than 60 feet.
“He looked like a major leaguer,” coach Paul Mainieri said. “It was unbelievable.”
As LSU finishes its regular season, Hill has gotten closer to a return. He might pitch in the Southeastern Conference tournament, which begins next Tuesday, giving LSU depth for the postseason.
Hill, who will throw a full bullpen Tuesday, has not pitched for LSU in almost three months because of a strained ulnar collateral ligament. There were no rehabilitation options, Hill said. He just had to wait for his arm to feel better.
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"If he's able to pitch in the SEC tournament — and I'm not sure that he will be able to — it wouldn't be more than a couple innings," Mainieri said. "He may still start a game. I'm not sure yet. It would be with an eye on a little bit more extended outing in the NCAA tournament."
Coming into the season, Hill, Cole Henry and Landon Marceaux gave LSU three freshmen capable of pitching in the weekend rotation. Mainieri thought they rivaled the best freshman arms in the history of the program. They started three of LSU’s first four games.
All three have missed games this year because of injuries, stunting their development and forcing LSU to use pitchers in ways it did not foresee.
Hill woke up feeling sore after his second start of the season. He had won SEC freshman of the week for striking out eight batters in his collegiate debut, but LSU shut him down with a 1.80 ERA through 10 innings.
In nine games without Cole Henry, LSU has a team ERA of 6.70.
Marceaux and Henry continued to pitch, with Henry soon replacing Marceaux in the weekend rotation. Then Marceaux felt a pinch in his shoulder, restraining him to two games over a span of six weeks.
Meanwhile, Henry established himself as LSU’s ace. He struck out 12 batters against Florida, his last start before his arm hurt. He has missed three starts.
Around the same time Henry stopped pitching, Marceaux’s arm healed.
Back in the rotation, Marceaux made one of his best starts against Arkansas last weekend. He pitched into the sixth inning and gave up two runs as LSU snapped its five-game losing streak.
“Marceaux can be better than that,” Mainieri said. “It's unfortunate that this year he's had to deal with the arm soreness. He's behind schedule a little bit for where we thought he would be by this time."
While LSU played the Razorbacks, Henry went home to Alabama. He threw with his father, a former pitcher who coached Henry in high school.
Chris Reid started on Saturday at first base. Then he took reps there at practice two days later.
Mainieri did not have an update on Henry before Monday’s practice.
LSU hopes Hill and Henry can return for the postseason, which would give the Tigers all three freshmen for the first time since the end of February.
Hill and Henry would be limited in how many innings they could last, Mainieri said, but they would provide capable arms for a staff searching for consistent pitching.
“If Jaden Hill had stayed healthy and Cole Henry had stayed healthy, I feel like by this time we'd have three freshman pitchers that were as good as any freshman pitchers we've had around here,” Mainieri said. “It's been unfortunate it hasn't worked out that way.”