When Brandon Kaminer arrived at LSU last fall, he wanted to leave a strong first impression. Kaminer’s first two years of college baseball had not progressed as he once expected, but he had a chance to prove himself at LSU.
Recruiting coordinator Nolan Cain told coach Paul Mainieri the Tigers had signed a left-handed pitcher who threw consistent strikes. Instead, Kaminer struggled during fall practice.
“He did not look anything like what Nolan described him to me,” Mainieri said. “I say that affectionately, but I was very concerned. He did not look comfortable. He did not look confident.”
But something changed before preseason practice. When Kaminer returned to campus in January, he looked like a different pitcher, more sure of himself and capable. During Mainieri’s first preseason news conference, he lumped Kaminer with the rest of LSU’s veteran relievers.
Since then, Kaminer has continued to assert himself as a reliable option. He will start against Louisiana Tech on Wednesday night, his second midweek start this season.
Who's starting, how to watch and what to watch for when LSU baseball hosts Louisiana Tech on Wednesday night.
Kaminer’s emergence has created a “conundrum” for Mainieri. He thinks Kaminer could become a starting pitcher, but without another consistent left-hander in the bullpen, Mainieri feels hesitant to change Kaminer’s role.
Kaminer will not pitch long against Louisiana Tech because LSU also wants to use him this weekend in Houston.
“I'm tempted to stretch him out,” Mainieri said. “Maybe next week we will.”
After growing up in south Florida, Kaminer enrolled at Miami his freshman year. The two-time All-Broward County selection envisioned himself playing three years of college baseball before starting his professional career.
Kaminer spent the summer and fall months on the Hurricanes’ baseball team. But after tearing his left meniscus, Kaminer ended up at Wallace Community College, having to adjust his life plan.
Over 65 innings last season, Kaminer recorded an 8-2 record at Wallace. He notched 68 strikeouts with only nine walks. LSU noticed him. He signed last summer, returning to a premier college baseball program.
Wanting to show his worth, nerves filled Kaminer during fall practice. He tried almost too hard, thinking too much as he pitched. He struggled to find the strike zone.
“It didn't look like he was very confident in what he was doing,” sophomore first baseman Cade Beloso said.
Entering the series against Eastern Kentucky, LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri planned to use freshman Alex Milazzo for two games at catcher. He ended up starting Milazzo the entire three-game set.
Kaminer focused on settling his nerves during winter break. Every outing increased his comfort level. He started throwing strikes again, peppering the zone with a fastball that sits around 90 mph. His breaking ball showed more spin.
“I had to come back and be myself,” Kaminer said.
LSU used Kaminer before any other reliever this year, pitching him after starter Cole Henry in the season opener. He has made two more appearances, which has tied him for second-most on the team. Kaminer has allowed three runs (none earned) in 4⅔ innings.
With redshirt junior Eric Walker struggling to regain his form — he will pitch one inning against Louisiana Tech — Kaminer may give LSU a fourth quality starter, someone capable of winning midweek games and starting during the postseason. However, LSU doesn’t yet trust left-handers Jacob Hasty or Michael Lagarrigue in the bullpen.
LSU won its series against Eastern Kentucky this weekend. These are three things we learned about, from freshman catcher Alex Milazzo to the offense's troubles.
“The problem is, you hate to use your one left-hander you know you can count on,” Mainieri said. “If you use him up in the middle of the week, you don't have him on the weekend.”
Mainieri will have to decide how he wants to use Kaminer the rest of the season, but whatever he chooses, the coach trusts Kaminer after a rough fall practice.
Kaminer now resembles the pitcher LSU thought its singed last summer. And he feels confident again. The nerves are gone.
“It almost seems like the less pressure he puts on himself, the better he's going to do out there,” junior catcher Saul Garza said. “He has that aura on the mound we're going to need.”