Last year’s Cinderella run in the College World Series is over.
The biggest move of the season for LSU baseball is taking sophomore pitcher Zack Hess out of the bullpen and putting him into the starting rotation. Hess worked as the Tigers’ midweek starter for the first two months of last season before moving to the bullpen.
The move from the bullpen to the starting rotation is something LSU coach Paul Mainieri knows Hess can handle.
“There’s a lot of things that go into being out there for seven innings, and I think Zack has a tremendous understanding of that,” Mainieri said. “He is a very intelligent kid and he wants to do it.”
LSU will have to replace its entire weekend starting pitching rotation as Alex Lange and Jared Poché moved on to professional baseball and right-hander Eric Walker will be sidelined in 2018 after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
Hess found his stride in the bullpen making a team-high 30 appearances with six starts and allowing only nine earned runs on 19 hits and 48 strikeouts.
The return to the starting rotation will be different than the bullpen for Hess, but his mentality is what he thinks can help him this season.
“You have to go in with the mindset when your a starter that you’re [going to] be there for nine innings,” Hess said. “You have to pick and choose your big bullets and the rest of the time
your cruising at 80 or 90 percent.”
Hess pitched brilliantly in the 2017 College World Series as a reliever, appearing in five of the Tigers’ seven games. Hess
uses a power fastball that tops out around 96 mph and a devastating slider to fool his opponents.
Despite the two dominating pitches, Hess has been hard at work re-developing his changeup that he put on the shelf after the move to the bullpen.
“Going to the Cape Cod League, I was able to regain some feel for that pitch,” Hess said. “Between that and some of the early starts I made in the fall and live at-bats this spring, I think it’s come a long way and I think it’s [going to] be a weapon for me this year.”
Hess became an overnight sensation during last years College World Series when he adopted the famous “Wild Thing” persona after he shaved his head like Ricky Vaughn from 1989’s “Major League.”
Even with the “Wild Thing” haircut long gone, Hess is always going to bring his competitive fire to the game.
“From a competitive standpoint I’m still [going to] be the same guy,” Hess said. “My goal is to help our team win and compete in the strike zone. I’m really looking forward to getting back there on the mound.”
The transition of Hess to the starting lineup left a hole in the LSU bullpen, but with a good blend of old and young guys, Hess knows they can be successful.
“I think we’re [going to] have a lot of good guys out of our bullpen this year,” Hess said. “It might take us a little bit of time to figure out who fits where, but I definitely think we have guys that can help us out.”
With the season starting in nine days, the Tigers are poised to lead this team back to Omaha. Before a title run is in store, the Tigers and Hess know they need to clean up their mistakes and get ready to start the season.
“I think every aspect of my game needs to sharpen a little bit,” Hess said. “There’s still some work to be done, but I really like where I’m at right now and I’m excited to get back on the mound.”
The LSU baseball season will officially start on Feb. 16 when the Tigers face off against Notre Dame at 7 p.m. in Alex Box Stadium.