BATON ROUGE, La.—A pair of Southeastern Conference aces with first-round aspirations squared off at Alex Box Stadium on Friday night. The showdown between Georgia lefthander Alex Wood and Louisiana State righty Kevin Gausman didn't exactly live up to its billing, as the two teams combined for 23 hits in LSU's 6-5 win, but the stats are deceiving. Gausman and Wood both showed impressive stuff and composure despite their pedestrian lines.
Gausman, a flame-throwing draft-eligible sophomore with a chance to be drafted first overall this June, allowed five runs (three earned) on 10 hits and no walks over six innings, but his nine strikeouts were a better indication of the quality of his stuff. After a 1-2-3 first inning, Gausman gave up three hits in the second and five more in the third, but none of those eight were hit particularly hard—they were a collection of seeing-eye choppers and bloops that fell in. And he showed plenty of poise by striking out Justin Bryan and Jonathan Hester with the bases loaded to minimize the damage in the two-run third.
"In the third inning, I've never seen such bad luck for a pitcher as Gausman was having, it was unbelievable," LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. "They weren't even getting balls out of the infield, and we were fortunate they only got two runs—Gausman had to really show what he was made of again."
The defense behind Gausman didn't help, as three of Georgia's hits in the third could have been outs if the left side of the infield had made better plays. The defense let Gausman down again in UGa.'s two-run fifth, as two Tyler Hanover throwing errors led to two unearned runs.
But there was nothing wrong with Gausman's stuff. He sat in the 94-96 range for most of the game, topping out at 97 repeatedly and still pitching at 94 in the sixth. He did some advanced things for a college righthander, such as getting swing-and-misses against righthanded hitters with his excellent 85-86 mph changeup and running his 90-91 mph two-seamer in on the hands of righties. He featured his short, hard 84-87 mph slider more than his 78-79 downer curve, which he mixed in sparingly, but both pitches showed promise. Of his nine strikeouts, four came on four-seam fastballs (three looking), one came on a two-seamer, two came on changeups, one came on a slider and one came on a curveball. Very few college pitchers have such a deep repertoire of effective offerings.
For his part, Wood pitched overwhelmingly with his fastball and changeup against an LSU lineup that featured eight righthanded hitters. His fastball sat comfortably at 91-93 mph throughout his seven innings of work, topping out at 94 repeatedly. He showed good feel for his 83-84 changeup, though he did not miss many bats with it. Wood struck out just two while walking two and allowing four runs (three earned) on eight hits. He was also squared up more often than Gausman, but like Gausman he demonstrated a knack for wriggling out of trouble, stranding a runner at third base in the second inning and leaving the bases loaded in the seventh.
In the middle innings, Wood seemed to catch some of LSU's hitters off guard by rolling in a 76 mph curveball, using it to freeze Mason Katz for a third strike in the fifth. The pitch has plenty of break but is not particularly tight and rates well behind his other two offerings.
Still, as a physical lefthander with plus fastball velocity and a competitive streak, Wood stands a very good chance to be drafted in the supplemental first round this June, with a chance to sneak into the back of the first round. Even on a day when he lacked his best command and didn't get his best results, he showed plenty of reasons to be excited about his future.