Jake Latz’s 75 miles per hour breaking pitch plunked Rice outfielder Dayne Wunderlich in the left arm.
Alex Box Stadium released a collective groan. Latz dropped his head in disappointment. Paul Mainieri emerged from the dugout, striding to the mound and signaling toward the bullpen.
It was the second inning.
The Latz experiment failed – at a most critical time.
The highly touted 2015 signee lasted just 1.1 innings in the decisive championship game of the NCAA Baton Rouge regional on Tuesday afternoon at the Box.
The redshirt freshman hit his final batter, and the lefty walked another, threw a wild pitch and allowed two runs in a 31-pitch outing. The two hits – a first-inning double and a second-inning single off reliever Russell Reynolds – scored the runs.
Mainieri’s team slipped into an early 2-0 hole after Latz’ short and, some might say, debatable start. Latz had recently recovered from a year-long elbow injury, and he’d thrown just 5.1 innings in 2016.
Mainieri chose him over a handful of others, including No. 2 starter Jared Poché, the grizzled junior from Lutcher. Poché entered Tuesday’s game to start the third inning, on three days of rest. He threw 92 pitches in a six-inning win over Utah Valley on Friday.
Latz, meanwhile, watched from the dugout, another chapter in the saga surrounding the Chicago-area kid.
Latz was the third-highest drafted high school player in the 2014 MLB draft to not sign professionally. He was expected to contend for a starting spot leading up to last season before the injury struck, forcing a redshirt of his rookie year.
The staff expected Latz healthy this past fall.
He threw 10 scoreless innings during fall practice before feeling pain in the 11th, prompting three doctor visits that all determined the 2014 Illinois Player of the Year needed surgery on the elbow.
The pain returned in his first collegiate action, a 1.1-inning start against McNeese State on April 12. A month later, he began to pitch pain free, allowing one hit in one-inning appearances against Northwestern State on May 17 and Florida on May 21.
He started LSU’s game against Tennessee in the Southeastern Conference tournament, throwing two scoreless innings and striking out a pair.
He couldn’t mimic that production Tuesday on a hot June afternoon in Baton Rouge.
Latz needed just four pitches to strike out his first batter of the game, but 4-hole hitter Connor Teykl smashed a 2-2 fastball down the left field line to drive in a run later on.
Latz walked the leadoff man in the second inning before plunking Wunderlich with his 31st and final pitch – a breaking ball that strayed inside.
Latz threw 23 fastballs during the outing, 14 for strikes. He tossed eight breaking pitches, with just three landing for strikes. He threw his last four breakers for balls.
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @RossDellenger.