COLUMBIA, S.C. — Parker Bugg has set himself apart.
Bugg’s introduction video that plays on the Alex Box Stadium jumbo-tron is different than any other LSU baseball player.
Others simply strike a pose. They crack a smile. Maybe they laugh or point toward the camera.
Bugg, LSU’s tall, lanky sophomore pitcher, is holding six baseballs — in one hand.
“It’s ridiculous,” fellow pitcher Hunter Newman said.
“He’s got ginormous hands,” outfielder Jake Fraley said.
Bugg can hold six baseballs simultaneously in his right hand. He can hold seven in his left hand.
This is relevant, why?
“Bodes well for a pitcher,” LSU pitching coach Alan Dunn said.
But Bugg hasn’t surged up the pecking order in LSU’s bullpen because he’s got big hands. He’s arguably the Tigers’ No. 1 relief pitcher because of what coach Paul Mainieri calls a “power slider” — a pitch Bugg first learned over the summer, developed in the fall and perfected this spring.
The pitch’s success is, in part, because he spins it so well with his gangly fingers and oversized paw.
It’s a pitch that’s helped get his team to its current position. LSU, the consensus No. 1-ranked team in the nation for four weeks running, can secure a Southeastern Conference Western division championship with a win in Thursday’s series opener against South Carolina in Columbia.
The Tigers (44-8, 19-7) can win the overall SEC title with a win Thursday and a loss from Vanderbilt (37-16, 18-9), which plays at Alabama. Bottom line: Mainieri’s team needs two wins in the three-game series against the Gamecocks (31-22, 12-15) to secure both regular-season championships.
Big-handed Bugg and his nasty slider will, no doubt, have a hand in the title-winning in some way. He has the third-lowest ERA (2.08) of any reliever and has thrown the most innings (31.1) of any pitcher who has not had at least one start.
He already has more strikeouts (31) this year than he did in 36 innings all of last season. He has no-hit opponents in 12 appearances — nine of those spots lasting at least an inning.
Bugg is in the midst of following a middling freshman season with a sizzling sophomore year — and it’s all because of that slider.
“That’s been his go-to,” starting pitcher Jared Poche said. “That’s been his strikeout pitch.”
Bugg stands 6-feet-6. He has a fastball that hovers around 90 mph with a steep downhill plane. That’s always been his pitch. The problem: He didn’t really have another one. He leaned on a splitter last season, but it was erratic, often finding the dirt behind home plate.
He describes his curveball with one word: “OK,” he said.
Dunn and Bugg made the decision after last season: It’s time to find another pitch.
“First,” Dunn said, “you just look at what are his attributes? What does he do? He’s 6-6. He throws on a great angle. His fastball is working downhill, so you say, ‘What is the best secondary pitch for you?”
The answer was easy: the slider — a pitch that disguises itself as a fastball upon leaving Bugg’s hand before sliding, sideways, away from a right-handed batter or sliding toward a lefty. Bugg had never thrown a slider until the summer.
His slider bounces around in the low-80s — a reason Mainieri qualifies it with “power” slider. It’s a spinning, sliding, high-velocity pitch that fooled an LSU lineup in the fall — a group that’s now one of the best in the college game.
“He kept striking out batters out,” Mainieri said. “I went to (Alan Dunn) and said, ‘What’s he throwing?!’ That’s when I thought we might have something special.”
Sliders aren’t unusual to LSU’s pitching staff. Poché says Russell Reynolds, sidewinder Collins Strall and freshman Jake Godfrey throw the pitch. Bugg’s seems to be the best.
In the major league game, Cincinnati Reds closer Aroldis Chapman has one of the best sliders around. It hovers around 90-92 mph.
“That’s just hard to fathom,” Dunn said, “but the slider is more about spin (than speed). It’s about the aggressiveness that you throw it with and the location. The speed is important, but it’s more about the depth you’re getting and the bite you’re getting.”
Bugg’s slider has a “tighter” spin than normal, Fraley said. Why?
“He’s got unique features — long, lanky, big hands,” Fraley said. “He’s able to get a lot more around the ball. He’s able to get a more spin, a lot tighter spin. Sharper break to it.”
Bugg’s giant hands are a well known thing on the team. The fact he can fit seven baseballs in one hand and six in the other is also well known. In fact, just recently during a discussion with a reporter, Bugg realized he could hold seven baseballs in his right hand as well - imagine that.
His hands are still growing.
“One there, two, three, four, five, six,” he said as he placed baseball around a sprawling palm.
“I can get a seventh one there,” pointing to a small area at the base of the palm.
He squeezed a final baseball into the spot, glanced up and posed for a picture.
LSU (44-8, 19-7) vs. South Carolina (31-22, 12-15)
When: 6 p.m. Thursday
Where: Carolina Stadium, Columbia, South Carolina
Rankings: LSU is ranked as the No. 1 team in the nation in all six polls. South Carolina is not ranked.
Projected starting pitchers:
Thursday: LSU So. LHP Jared Poché (7-1, 2.87 ERA) vs. USC Jr. LHP Jack Wynkoop (8-4, 2.83 ERA)
Friday: LSU Fr. RHP Austin Bain (1-2, 2.98 ERA) vs. USC TBA
Saturday: LSU Fr. RHP Alex Lange (9-0, 2.13 ERA) vs. USC TBA
TV: SEC Network
Online Streaming: ESPN3.com (also available on the WatchESPN app)
Radio: WDGL 98.1 FM (Baton Rouge); KLWB 103.7 FM (Lafayette); WWL 870 AM, WWL 105.3 FM (New Orleans)
In-game updates: @DellengerAdv
What to watch: Jared Poché lasted just 3.2 innings in his last start in the series opener against Missouri. He allowed seven hits and three runs in a stay on the mound that was tied for the shortest of his career. … Jared Foster is expected to get the start at second base after returning from what was thought to be ineligibility. Foster hasn’t played in nearly two weeks so keep an eye on him in the field. … The Tigers can win the SEC West with a victory Thursday and can win the overall SEC championship with a win and Vanderbilt loss.
Know your opponent: The Gamecocks are on the NCAA regional bubble. A series win over top-ranked LSU could be just the nudge to push them into the NCAA field. They’ve los six of nine SEC series this season, but two of the three wins have come against two of the league’s top teams – Texas A&M and Vanderbilt.
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @DellengerAdv.