While his teammates packed up and ventured to various summer leagues across the country, Ryan Eades shut it down.
The talented right handed pitcher took a summer to rest that electric arm and mentally regroup after a sophomore season loaded with peaks and valleys, the last of which game in the latter department—2.2 innings of seven hit, four run work in a season-ending loss to Stony Brook in Super Regional play.
“Last year I started off the season really strong, and toward the end there were some ups and downs,” Eades said. “It was really frustrating. Me and (pitching coach Alan Dunn) talked a lot after the season and this fall a really worked on a bunch of things.”
Rested and refocused, Eades toed the slab this fall and dominated an LSU lineup full of proven SEC hitters and budding young talent. Time and time again, Eades cruised through the order, blowing his low 90s fastball by helpless hitters and snapping off that trademark slider.
Talent was never the issue for the former Northshore High School star. But talent isn’t enough at the collegiate level.
“His Achilles Heel is that he’s made a bad pitch at a bad time,” said LSU head coach Paul Mainieri. “He gets a guy 0-2 and then hangs a breaking ball, or he gets the first two outs and then can’t put that third guy away.
“I just think it’s a little bit of maturing.”
Perhaps having a summer where making pitches and eating up outs weren’t the first two things on his mind was a plus for Eades. He didn’t have to worry about how his repaired right labrum felt or what type of lineup the opposition put together for his next start.
A rough patch early in a talented pitcher’s career isn’t anything new in college baseball. It’s not anything new to Mainieri.
“(Eades’) sophomore year reminded me of Louis Coleman’s sophomore year,” Mainieri said. “That was how Louis was as a sophomore, and then he got a little tired of it. He developed a little bit more of mean streak, and I think that’s what Ryan is doing.”
During Coleman’s sophomore campaign, the right hander finished just 2-3 with a 5.59 ERA in 46 innings. The transformation Coleman made, in both demeanor and delivery, entering his junior season opened eyes.
The bulldog from Schlater, Ms., mowed down opposing lineups to the tune of the 1.95 ERA and an 8-1 record in 55.1 innings. The next step was the SEC Pitcher of the Year as a senior.
It’s not likely that Eades remains at LSU for his senior season, but the situation he finds himself in this year is not unlike the one Coleman enjoyed during his final year in Baton Rouge.
That year, Anthony Ranaudo earned the Friday night job, but Coleman’s slid in as the No. 2 and formed an excellent one-two punch atop the LSU rotation. Mainieri and the Tigers rode those two to the school’s sixth College World Series championship.
Last week, Mainieri dubbed sophomore Aaron Nola as LSU’s Friday night arm entering the 2013 season, but that’s not to diminish Eades’ role.
“We’re both competitive pitchers, so of course I want to be ‘that guy’,” Eades said of him and Nola. “Whatever role (Mainieri) puts me in, I’m going to go out there and give it everything I have.”
Eades appears to have everything in order as the dawn of the season approaches. His arm is fresh. He’s in year two with Dunn, and Ty Ross returns as his catcher for the third consecutive season.
Eades, Ross and Dunn completed a bullpen session Monday afternoon amid steady rainfall. The trio is in lock step moving forward.
Ross’ assessment of the Eades he saw this fall sounded strikingly familiar.
“It’s just his mound demeanor,” Ross said. “He’s got the same stuff, it’s just how he handles himself on the mound. I think Eades has just gotten more aggressive.”
In a sport that doesn’t often lend to seniors hanging around and making huge impacts, LSU is a bit of an anomaly. Mason Katz, Raph Rhymes, Chris Cotton and Joey Bourgeois lead a group of eight seniors, most of which will play a part in molding the team.
Generally, it’s veteran juniors like Eades who pave the way. To coincide with his new attitude on the mound, a different level of leadership is now expected of Eades.
“We’ve have eight seniors and juniors like me who have experience,” Eades said. “That postseason experience last year for us was a lot of help. We just have to carry that this season.”
How Eades responds to his 5-3 season from a year ago will likely help dictate what the LSU postseason experience is like this year.
Mainieri is hoping he gets more of the Eades that worked into the sixth inning against South Carolina to help clinch a conference title than the Eades who handed him the ball and a 4-1 deficit against Stony Brook.
“(Eades) knows what he’s capable of doing, and he’s bound and determined to reach the level that everybody knows he can be,” Mainieri said. “He definitely did in the fall and most of the time in the spring. He’s been able to pitch out of it. The other day he pitched four shutout innings. It wasn’t perfect, but I see signs that he’s ready to take it to the next level.”