LSU starting pitcher Zack Hess (38) pitches against Tennessee, Friday, April 13, 2018, at LSU's Alex Box Stadium in Baton Rouge, La.

Sometimes, it can come down to not trying to do the impossible.

That is the best way Zack Hess put it when describing his recent string of excellence on the mound.

The LSU sophomore right-hander has done exactly what a staff ace is supposed to do, pitching his team to wins in each of his past three starts while striking out 23 batters and yielding just 10 hits.

The difference between those starts and the rest of his résumé as a starter has been his willingness to do the things a starter is supposed to do, rather than trying to be the same guy he was out of the bullpen last season.

“When I was coming into games my freshman year and closing things out, you could use the environment, you could use the emotion of the game,” Hess said. “I felt I could really channel that into an intensity and my stuff would play up because of it.

“But you can’t do that as a starting pitcher, and I’ve learned that over the course of this year. You have to treat every inning the same.”

Treating every inning the same means not trying to do the impossible, Hess said: He is no longer trying to strike out a batter on the first pitch of the at bat.

Four weeks ago, in a start against Vanderbilt, Hess needed 98 pitches to get through 3⅓ innings.

Even when he was on a hot streak earlier this season — after his disastrous 2018 debut, he had a 2.77 ERA and averaged 10 strikeouts per game in his next four starts — an elevated pitch count was at times an issue.

He needed 107 pitches to get through six innings against Missouri, largely because of one inning that required 37 pitches to get through.

He has topped 100 pitches in each of his past three starts, but he pitched into the seventh inning or later in all of them.

“The last two or three weeks, I’ve been able to go a little deeper in the game and manage my pitch count a little better,” Hess said.

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“Hey, let’s get aggressive. Let’s get to two strikes as quickly as we can, then let’s execute that strikeout pitch — not trying to do it too early. That’s been key for me.”

All of this is about establishing a routine, something simple and repeatable that can lead to consistent production on the mound. Hess has gotten more comfortable in his starting routine. He knows he will only pitch one game every week, and he is able to build his entire week around it. 

On Wednesday, Hess traveled to New Orleans for LSU's game against Tulane. He does not always go with the team when it plays midweek games on the road, but otherwise his routine always remains the same. 

He will do some mobility training, followed by what he called "mid-distance throwing," backing up to 180 or 200 feet. Then he will do 12 to 15 sprints, go through a cool-down and eventually become a spectator. That is also part of his routine, at least for days before he pitches. 

"We have a routine where, the game before you pitch, you’re going to chart pitches with (pitching coach Alan Dunn)," Hess said. "So I’m going to be sitting next to coach Dunn the entire game and charting pitches."

The whole time, he will not see a single first-pitch strikeout.  


vs. Mississippi State: 6⅔ IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 4 BB, 10 K (104 pitches)

at Texas A&M: 8 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 5 K (114 pitches)

vs Tennessee: 7 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 8 K (102 pitches)

Combined: 22⅔ IP, 10 H, 2 ER, 8 BB, 23 K

Follow Luke Johnson on Twitter, @ByLukeJohnson.