By Trey Mongrue
When it comes to college baseball and LSU, it is hard to find much significance in midweek games. More times than not, the opponent is a random Louisiana squad or a northern team traveling south to escape the snow. That was last Tuesday when the Tigers welcomed Ivy League opponent, Sacred Heart.
But that game held much meaning for Brady Domangue. When the LSU pitcher trotted out to the mound to warm up for his first start of the season, he felt something that he had yet to really feel in his short time with the team – confidence.
“I feel like I’ve found my groove,” he explained. “It’s amazing that whenever you relax a little, it makes it pretty easy to go out there and contend.”
It was Domangue’s fourth appearance this season and, according to him, his best to date. In his three innings of work, he gave up a lone run on three hits and earned the victory as the Tigers toppled Sacred Heart, 8-1.
It was a welcome sight for head coach Paul Mainieri who vowed not to give up on Domangue after seeing him have shaky outings in relief appearances against New Orleans and Texas Southern.
“He looked like a different man out there,” said Mainieri. “He was very aggressive and very confident.”
Of the eight pitchers that were a part of LSU’s 2014 signing class, Mainieri placed Domangue at the top of the list when he was recruiting him.
That should come as no shock, considering that Domangue set the single-season strikeout (118) and earned run average (1.34) records as a starting pitcher at LSU-Eunice in 2013. After taking the summer off, Domangue came to LSU last autumn as a candidate for the vacant closer role, but an injury kept him off the mound.
With that long layoff, he was obviously rusty during preseason practice and in his first appearances when he gave up a combined six runs in just two-thirds innings pitched.
“He’s one of the finest young men that you’d ever want to meet and is everything that you’d want in a ballplayer,” Mainieri said of Domangue. “So when a kid like that struggles, you don’t just give up on him.”
One of Domangue’s big problems in those first couple of outings was his command. Against the first seven batters he faced, he issued three walks, one hit by pitch and did not record a strikeout. He admits that a big reason for those issues were that fastball felt flat and his slider just was not breaking enough.
In working with both Mainieri and pitching coach Alan Dunn, Domangue realized he was working too fast on the mound, which caused his arm to fly open and hinder his accuracy.
“It’s a good thing to have some of the best coaches in the country and we worked our butts off to get things back on track,” said Domangue. “Those first two outings, everything was just out of whack and out of sync with my mechanics.
“The biggest thing now going forward is that I feel confident in my mechanics.”
That confidence became abundantly clear against Sacred Heart when, after opening the game by recording the first strikeout of his LSU career, Domangue was tagged for a solo home run. Instead of going into a tailspin on the mound like he had in the past, the junior from Houma rebounded and turned in a scoreless performance the rest of the way.
“The main thing was to go back out there and throw up scoreless innings from then on out,” Domangue recalled. “After I got that first inning out of the way and threw those two zeroes after that, it was a big confidence booster.”
With the competition ratcheting up a few levels this week as the eighth-ranked Tigers begin Southeastern Conference play with a trip to Nashville to take on defending regular season champion, Vanderbilt, Mainieri knows that he needs all of his pitching arms at his disposal.
Obviously, that includes the one pitcher that he may have valued the most when he hit the recruiting trail last season.
“I think Brady is going to be a very key guy for us this year,” said Mainieri. “Hopefully, he is on his way now.”
The good news for Mainieri is that Domangue now feels like he is trending upwards with each passing outing.
“It feels good to finally get back out there and throw like I know that I can throw,” said Domangue. “From here on out, I feel like I’m in a pretty good place.”