Originally posted on the College Blog:
HOOVER, Ala.—Perhaps a trip to Regions Park was all Anthony Ranaudo and Louisiana State needed to recapture that old magic.
"For a while there, it seemed like old times, with Anthony out there hurling and us swinging the bats real well, and us playing in this ballpark, which we love so much," LSU coach Paul Mainieri said.
Ranaudo, LSU's beleagured ace, pitched into the eighth inning before running out of gas, helping lead the eighth-seeded Tigers to a 10-6 upset of top-seeded Florida in the Southeastern Conference tournament.
In the first inning, as Ranaudo overpowered the first three Florida hitters with a 92-94 mph fastball and a devastating power curveball at 80-83 that he located to both corners and to the back feet of the three lefties he faced in the frame, it was difficult to imagine how the junior righthander could have possibly carried an 8.49 ERA into the game. Grunts of approval could be heard from some of the scouting horde on hand to get a look at one of the draft's greatest X-factors. Ranaudo seemingly announced in that first inning that Anthony Ranaudo, College World Series hero and top pitching prospect in the nation heading into this spring, was back.
"That was a nice change of pace for me," Ranaudo said of his 1-2-3 first, which was bookended by strikeotus of Nolan Fontana and Preston Tucker on 93 and 94 mph fastballs. "My last couple starts, I had some bumps in the road in the first innings. Tonight I knew right then that my stuff was there, I had command to both sides, I could elevate the fastball. I knew I was going to have a good day."
And he did have a good day, though his final line (7.2 IP, 8 H, 6 R, 5 ER, 2 BB, 5 K) did not reflect it, partly because Mainieri said he left Ranaudo in one batter too long, and reliever Paul Bertuccini allowed two inherited runners to score after replacing Ranaudo with two out and runners on first and second in the eighth.
In the middle innings, Ranaudo touched 94 numerous times and 95 a few times. In the late innings, he sat at 90-92 and touched 93. It wasn't his best velocity, but it was good, and he located his fastball well—particularly to the inner half. He continued to command his curveball well, throwing it at 78-82 as the game progressed, and he mixed in a handful of changeups.
"Certainly it was his best performance," Mainieri said. "You had the feeling when he was out there that he was in command. I thought his curveball was really the pitch that made the difference for him today . . . Today he did not hang many (curves) at all, and he buried it when he got two strikes. I thought he pitched very well. And he can pitch better. He's got a better game in him."
The general consensus among scouts was that Ranaudo helped his draft stock more than the other two high-profile pitchers who turned in more dominating performances Wednesday, Alabama's Jimmy Nelson and Mississippi's Drew Pomeranz, because Ranaudo had more to prove. Scouts just wanted to see that the Real Ranaudo was back—that the stress reaction near his elbow that sidelined him for most of the first half was fully behind him, that he had his confidence and his command and his stuff back. To use a first-round pick on Ranaudo and undertake the arduous task of trying to sign a high-profile Scott Boras Corp. advisee, major league clubs needed some reassurance. And they got it.
"He was really good the first three innings, especially," one scout said.
The last time Ranaudo faced Florida—on April 30 in Gainesville—he did not even last three innings, let alone three "really good" innings. In that game, Ranaudo was yanked after allowing four runs on six hits in two innings.
"(Wednesday he pitched ahead in the count, he pitched in well with his fastball, he got his breaking ball over early in the count. He was a totally different pitcher this time," Gators coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "He was really pitching with one pitch last time we saw him, and today he was pitching with two and was really effective."
Many of LSU's struggles down the stretch have been laid at Ranaudo's and closer Matty Ott's feet, but Ranaudo said he could tell he was close to turning the corner over the last few weeks, as his stuff gradually returned. To their credit, his coach and teammates never lost faith in him, trusting that the Real Ranaudo would take the mound any week.
"We have such a good team of guys, good team chemistry, so I didn't think there was any pressure on me," Ranaudo said. "But a start like this is a step in the good direction. Everybody was saying, 'That's the Anthony we know.' That's a good feeling for me."
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