Bradford shines for LSU in dismal weekend

"Gorilla Ball" is gone, and there is no Eddy Furniss warming up in the batters box. First year head coach Paul Mainieri has made it clear this season that this is not a power hitting team. Mainieri said this team will win on the backs of its pitching and defense, mixed in with a good amount of small ball at the plate.

Now just four weeks into the season, Mainieri's statement still stands true. With an 8-6 overall record, the LSU bats are not producing many home runs and they are not pitching well, but they are playing excellent defense.

 

Unranked LSU has played in many flashes thus far. One day they dominate, the next they are dominated. Mainieri thinks his team has the opportunity to be a great this season, but said it all starts with pitching.

 

"Anybody that doesn't understand that pitching is the name of the game in this sport, doesn't know this sport," said Mainieri. "It's that simple. Our starting pitcher went out there and pitched great. He gave our team confidence, and they played loose."

 

The Tigers have been anything but great on the mound this season. Louis Coleman has done well on the mound. So has Friday starter Charlie Furbush. But the rotation is nowhere near set with just one non-conference weekend series remaining against Southern Mississippi at home next weekend.

 

Mainieri said he was searching for answers Sunday when his Tigers escaped a series sweep by Lipscomb with an 8-4 victory.

 

That answer was Jared Bradford.

 

"I didn't decide until 3 a.m. while trying to sleep," Mainieri said. "I felt it was crucial to get off to a good start and Bradford was that guy."

 

Bradford, a transfer from Shelton State Community College in Hueytown, Ala., dominated every aspect of the plate against Lipscomb, striking out 13 batters with one walk, the most Ks by an LSU pitcher since Kurt Ainsworth fanned 16 at Tennessee on April 2, 1999.

 

The junior right-hander was outstanding in his second start of the season, giving up two runs on three hits in 7.1 innings.

 

"I've never been a strikeout guy, but today, I guess, was my day," said Bradford. "I'll take it for what it was worth. Ninety percent of my fastballs were sinkers. Even if they hit that pitch, it is on the bottom half of the barrel, and they are going to ground out. It was really sinking today."

 

Bradford allowed only four base runners all day and only twice did a runner reach second base. After working two perfect innings to start the game, he surrendered his first hit with two outs in the third on a double by second baseman Andrew Nickerson.

 

Bradford noticeably set the tempo for the day.

 

"He gets on the mound and goes so fast," center-fielder Jared Mitchell said. "We like it when he is on the mound. He puts batters up and down and gets us off the field."

 

Bradford's start Sunday was like taking a trip back into time. Earlier in the season, LSU traveled to Stetson where the Tigers were almost swept 2-1. With an 8-1 lose in the first matchup and an 14-1 lose in the second, Mainieri said he wanted to try something different when he sent Bradford on the mound for Sunday's contest.

 

"He would be a great SEC pitcher," Mainieri said. "It is going to be hard not to put him into the rotation."

 

Bradford responded well to the challenge, earning an 8-4 victory. He went six innings while giving up two runs on five hits with five strike outs. His win not only stopped the bleeding in DeLand, Fla., but it set LSU onto a four-game winning streak.

 

Mainieri and the Tigers hope Sunday's win will do the same.

 

Besides Bradford's two starts, most of his work as come in relief. He has a 1.96 ERA this season in seven appearances with 23 innings pitched. He's allowed just five runs on 13 hits with 26 strikeouts.      

 

"Jared [Bradford] is such a versatile pitcher that you don't know what to do with him. He can start or he can close. He even makes a great set-up guy."

 

"I like starting and closing," said Bradford, who never closed a game before pitching at LSU. "I like going out and setting the temp, but I also like getting the last out and sealing the win. I would do whatever I had to do to win."

 

Bradford comes to LSU as one of the top JUCO pitching prospects in the nation. He commands the zone extremely well and is known for a hard-dropping sinker that clocks between 85 and 90 mph He can also throw an outstanding slider and changeup 

 

He has two years remaining of eligibility, but could be drafted early if he continues to dominate. He was the 21st-round selection of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the 2005 Major League Baseball Draft and rated the No. 23 JUCO prospect in 2006 by Baseball America.


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