The last time most LSU fans saw Caleb Gilbert pitch was when he logged 7.1 masterful innings in an elimination game against Oregon State in the College World Series.
In Thursday’s Game 2 of the annual Purple and Gold World Series, Gilbert provided a tantalizing glimpse of what may be in store for 2018.
Armed with a new slider, a revamped changeup and his usual high-velocity fastball, Gilbert turned in two razor-sharp innings Thursday night, striking out half of the six batters he faced.
“Caleb threw good,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “You see how improved his slider is?”
That slider is a throwback to Gilbert’s high school days. He went back to the grip he used at Hoover (Ala.) High School, where he holds the ball more to the side than on top.
The result is a pitch that has less vertical depth, but more lateral movement.
“Over the years it’s been more of a slurve/curveball,” Gilbert said. “I’ve lost it the past two years halfway through the season. I’m trying to keep the feel for it throughout the season, and this fall it’s been great.”
He has also developed better feel for a third pitch, a changeup that Gilbert said “feels amazing, probably my best confidence pitch right now.”
“Now he’s in his third year, he knows he’s good enough and now he just carries himself like a man around here,” Mainieri said.
With Gilbert setting the tone, the purple squad evened the series at 1-1 with a 5-0 win.
His counterpart, freshman right-hander Ma’Khail Hilliard, took the loss after allowing an RBI double off the base of the left field wall to Beau Jordan.
Jordan finished the night 2 for 2 with three RBIs. With both starting pitchers only scheduled to go two innings, the game only went five innings.
Hilliard closed a strong fall with an up-and-down showing Thursday. The freshman allowed four hits, but only allowed one run with the help of a double play and two runners caught stealing.
“Hilliard was not particularly sharp tonight, but there’s a lot of hope for him,” Mainieri said.
LSU will close out its fall at 7 p.m. Friday with Game 3 of the series. Freshman right-handers Devin Fontenot and Cam Sanders will start. Mainieri has high hopes for them both.