COLUMBIA, S.C.—Two of the best arms in the Southeastern Conference squared off Friday night at sparkling new Carolina Stadium, as Louisiana state sophomore righty Anthony Ranaudo took on South Carolina sophomore righty Sam Dyson. Billed as the week’s Marquee Mound Matchup in our Weekend Preview, the showdown did not disappoint.
The two starters worked seven innings apiece and allowed a combined five hits, but two of South Carolina’s hits against Ranaudo were solo home runs, and the Gamecocks broke the game open with two more homers in the eighth against the LSU bullpen, then held off a ninth-inning rally to earn a 7-3 win in the series opener.
"If you’re a college baseball fan and you get to see a Dyson-Ranaudo matchup, that’s pretty good," South Carolina coach Ray Tanner said.
"Pretty good" is putting it mildly. The pitching duel was a rare treat, as both starters showed why they are potential first-round picks—Dyson as a redshirt sophomore this year, and Ranaudo in 2010.
Ranaudo pounded the bottom of the zone with a 91-93 mph fastball that topped out at 94. He struggled to get on top of his 76-80 mph curveball early in the game but started to get comfortable with it around the fourth inning, when he struck out Jeffery Jones on a 79 mph hammer. His 82-84 mph changeup had excellent sink and plus arm speed, according to one scout. When he needed to, he was able to elevate his fastball with life and induce pop-outs. Multiple scouts raved about his feel for pitching and especially his fastball command. So did Tanner.
"I was extremely impressed—I had not seen him before," Tanner said. "He’s very efficient, he can pitch inside. He scuffed at times with his breaking ball, but he made some big pitches with it as well. You’re talking about a big guy, 6-foot-7, he’s pitching down on you, he’s got that downward plane going. I was impressed."
Ranaudo made just two mistakes. He left an 82 mph changeup over the inner half of the plate that impressive South Carolina freshman outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. smacked for a home run to right field in the third inning. Bradley said the changeup sped up his bat. Then, in the fifth, he surrendered a solo shot to light-hitting freshman Bobby Haney on an 89 mph fastball. Ranaudo finished with nine strikeouts and two walks over seven innings.
"He pitched good enough to win, obviously," LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. "We’re just having trouble getting runs for him. He’s pitching great, but you can’t expect to pitch a shutout to win."
Dyson had a lot to do with LSU’s offensive struggles Friday. He held his 93-96 mph fastball velocity for seven innings and touched 97-98 a number of times, including on his final two pitches of the night. His last pitch was a 97 mph heater that preseason All-American D.J. LeMahieu hit for a nubber back to the mound. Dyson’s relentless, aggressive approach helped him work around six walks in seven innings, and he struck out five.
"I don’t really like the fact that he had so many walks, but he doesn’t give in too much," Tanner said. "He’s going to try to make his pitch, and I think that causes him to walk people because he is trying to make that pitch. But he was able to hang in there for us."
I expected to see big-time velocity out of Dyson. I did not expect to see a 78-82 mph hammer curveball, which he used to register three of his five strikeouts. The pitch was sharp, hard and late. In the last few innings of his outing, Dyson also had some success against lefthanded hitters with his 80-82 mph changeup, though it’s still a work-in-progress.
"The changeup is probably the hardest pitch for me to throw," Dyson said. "It definitely helps out a lot. I rarley throw it, it’s just not really consistent. In the sixth inning, I used it a couple of times warming up, and it was pretty good. I hadn’t really thrown it until then, but I used it a couple times that inning.
"I kind of brought (the curveball) out of the bag last week a little bit. I hadn’t really thrown a breaking ball throughout the fall and the spring. I’m just kind of bringing it along now and getting used to throwing it."
If he keeps throwing it like he did Friday, it’s hard to see him slipping out of the first round in June.
The Tigers did finally rally in the ninth, scoring three runs on three walks and two singles against lefty Alex Farotto. Junior outfielder Blake Dean, who pounded out one gigantic hit after another during LSU’s remarkable run to the College World Series last year, came to the plate as the tying run with the bases loaded and two outs in the ninth, but he flew out to center field to end it.
The Tigers were supposed to have the nation’s best lineup, but they have scored three or fewer runs in four of their last five games, and they haven’t topped six runs in any of their last six.
"I wish I had the answers to that one," Mainieri said, trying to explain his team’s offensive funk. "These kids, I’ve seen them hit good for two years, but they’re just in a rut right now. We’re just going to keep trying to build our confidence and keep them believing in themselves. But right now I’m about as frustrated as I could possibly be. I’m frustrated for the kids–they’re a bunch of good hitters who are collectively struggling right now . . . I wouldn’t be concerned if we were hitting a lot of balls hard, but we’re not even hitting a lot of balls hard. You have to give credit to Dyson—he’s throwing 97, 98 miles per hour. But we had some pitches to hit, and we just kept missing them."
A few Tigers continue to swing good bats. LeMahieu had a pair of hits Friday and his batting .422/.525/.641 on the year. Sean Ochinko (.444/.494/.778 with six homers) and Jared Mitchell (.395/.587/.721) have also been solid, though both were hitless Friday. But preseason All-Americans Ryan Schimpf and Dean look lost. Both were hitless Friday, dropping their averages to .258 and .242, respectively.
"Of all the kids struggling, the one that’s the biggest concern for me is Blake," Mainieri said. "It’s just hard for me to understand. I’ve watched that kid for two years be one of the best hitters I’ve ever coached, and right now he’s just so deep in a rut. You’ve got to believe he’s going to come out of it. We’re still only 20 games into the season, so there’s a lot of time left, and I still feel confident he’s going to come out of it."
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