LSU pitcher Jaden Hill will miss the rest of the 2021 season with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, coach Paul Mainieri announced Monday, ending another season for a pitcher filled with upside and possibly marking the conclusion of his college career.
Hill, a junior right-hander who began the year as LSU's ace and a potential top-five pick in the Major League Baseball draft, underwent tests Monday after he felt something wrong with his elbow last Friday during a start against Vanderbilt. Team doctors confirmed the diagnosis of a torn UCL. Hill will undergo Tommy John surgery.
"I don't have any doubt Jaden will recover from this," Mainieri said later on his weekly radio show. "I don't have any doubt someone will still draft him this summer and they'll rehab him and he'll come back from it and he'll have an outstanding professional career. But certainly this is a disappointing ending to his LSU career."
Who's starting, how to watch and what to watch for as LSU and McNeese play Tuesday night.
Hill suddenly grimaced and flexed his right forearm after a pitch in the second inning. Mainieri and LSU athletic trainer Cory Couture rushed to the mound. Hill threw one practice pitch, turned around, clenched his pitching hand again and told Mainieri, “It just doesn’t feel right.” He walked off the field alongside Couture.
With Hill unavailable the rest of the season, Mainieri said fourth-year junior AJ Labas will move into the Saturday slot beginning this weekend against Kentucky. Labas has a 3.26 ERA over seven starts. LSU hasn't decided who will pitch Sunday.
Hill entered the weekend rotation this season for the first time since his freshman year ended because of an elbow injury, one that tests at the time showed no structural damage to be the cause. LSU brought Hill along slowly from that, and after dominating as a reliever in a season shortened by the coronavirus pandemic, multiple MLB draft analysts named Hill a top-five prospect.
LSU lost all three games it played against No. 1 Vanderbilt, the first two in blowout fashion, 13-1 and 11-2, and the finale in a heartbreaking 5-4 ending.
This year, he wanted to complete an entire season for the first time in his LSU career.
“I get to show the world and prove to myself that the stuff I was doing is going to be put to work,” Hill said a couple days before LSU’s first game.
He smiled, buzzing about the possibilities: “I'm excited. It's going to be a good year.”
In seven starts, Hill went 2-3 with a 6.67 ERA. He proved he regained his endurance with three starts of at least six innings, but he struggled with consistency, issuing 12 walks as he tried multiple grips to perfect his slider and balance his pitches. Before his injury, Hill allowed six runs in both his Southeastern Conference starts. He recorded 25 strikeouts over 29⅔ innings.
"It's heartbreaking for all of us to receive this news, but it's especially disappointing for Jaden as a young man who has such a bright future in baseball," Mainieri said in a statement. "We will do everything we can to support Jaden in his return to full health. He has a tremendous work ethic, and I'm very confident he will overcome this setback."
With Hill’s season ended by an elbow injury for the second time in three years, LSU has to change one piece of the starting rotation, a group that has largely kept the Tigers competitive during their 1-8 start to Southeastern Conference play, the worst for the program since 1969.
Jaden Hill has hurtled toward stardom since his childhood in Ashdown. He can finally reach it with LSU, and once he does, he plans to do more than pitch.
Now, with 27 games left on the schedule and LSU tied for last in the SEC West with Auburn, LSU has to pull another pitcher into the rotation, removing someone from the bullpen.
The Tigers could go in a few directions. Freshman Will Hellmers has a 1.69 ERA over four midweek starts, freshman Blake Money allowed three runs over 4⅔ innings last Friday against Vanderbilt and freshman Garrett Edwards will start Tuesday night against McNeese State as LSU evaluates his potential as a starter.
Edwards last started Feb. 24 against UL, allowing one run over three innings. Since then, he has pitched out of the bullpen, occasionally as the closer. Mainieri said the decision to start Edwards doesn’t mean he’ll pitch Sunday afternoon. Hellmers will follow him out of the bullpen against McNeese State.
“I think the idea to start Garrett is to get him back on the horse right away and see how it looks,” Mainieri said. “Let him go through a starter's routine and start a ballgame in case that's something we want to look at down the road, whether it be this weekend or in the future.”