May 14, 2014 7:30:43 PM
STARKVILLE -- While sitting around in meetings during the middle of this season, Mississippi State pitching coach Butch Thompson brought up the idea of giving Lucas Laster more innings and opportunities
MSU head coach John Cohen had just one question for his most trusted assistant coach.
"You mean the guy who couldn't get anybody out in the fall? That Lucas Laster?," Cohen said when asked how he responded to Thompson's suggestion. "It was clear Butch has seen him improve, work hard and deserved the chance in games."
Laster is now a valuable weapon for MSU (33-19, 16-11 in Southeastern Conference) as it tries to find a southpaw partner to pair with Jacob Lindgren in the Bulldogs bullpen.
"I think Jacob and I play off each other so well because I'm more about movement and Jacob is more about velocity and hard bite with that breaking ball," Laster said.
Laster admitted he got a little nervous about how hard and often he was getting hit during offseason practices in the fall season. Laster, a junior college transfer, has now become another example of a fall failure that has turned into a spring star in games. Record-breaking and preseason All-American closer Jonathan Holder was on the cut line after his first fall season at MSU. He immediately transformed his body, mind and pitching mechanics to start a brilliant college career. Laster would just be another fortunate player to be able to recreate his career in less than a academic semester on the Starkville campus.
"I'm ready to contribute in whatever role the coaches want to put me in because I've really focused on getting myself prepared to go in the game whenever I'm needed," Laster said.
MSU has decided to leave the last two spots of the starting rotation open and left a little mystery to when junior Ross Mitchell will take the baseball. In order for the Tide to win the Western Division of the SEC, Alabama needs a sweep of the Bulldogs, Ole Miss must get swept at Texas A&M and LSU must lose a game at Auburn.
For MSU to win the Western Division outright, they need to win two more games than Ole Miss this weekend.
Cohen even said he would've considered Laster (0-0, 1.52, seven appearances) for the starting role tonight as MSU opens up a regular season finale series at Alabama (32-19, 14-12) with a 6:35 p.m. first pitch. However, Laster threw 78 pitches Sunday in an extra-inning victory over Tennessee so his available is unlikely.
More recently, Laster has gone from the guy in his first career Division 1 collegiate start at Trustmark Park at Pearl after hitting six Ole Miss batters in a Governors Cup victory to the guy striking out five Tennessee batters in a quality relief outing.
"The best gauge to see whether a pitch is the solid is the hitter and Lucas Laster got some trouble swings on Sunday when you saw the game on film," Cohen said. "Lucas is a guy that can be a big factor for us whether it's going to be a spot start or out of the bullpen."
Laster's throwing partner in practice always had the belief in him and it was no coaching accident to pair him in practice with Mitchell.
"When I played here at Mississippi State, you needed older guys to lead the way," Cohen said. "When I played here, you always wanted to be another Rafael Palmeiro, Will Clark and that has never changed here. That's why somebody like Lucas Laster has to watch a Ross Mitchell."
Mitchell's emergence into the starting rotation, a move he said Wednesday was "unexpected but one he's had to embrace" has opened up the role for Laster.
"I kept telling Butch after the first month of the season that he was getting better," Mitchell said. "I would walk up to Butch and say 'he's ready and he's really throwing stuff with movement' and I always had the belief that given the chance, he'd be really good."
Laster was named a Top 200 junior college prospect by Perfect Game and chose Mississippi State over scholarship offers from Middle Tennessee State and Lipscomb. Once he got to MSU, Laster was told he'd have to change his entire throwing motion and was fine with the new delivery.
"I was immediately made into a submarine guy and then went to Butch and asked 'would it be okay if I continued to do the submarine style but mix it up with over-the-top motion so they don't know what's coming?'," Laster said. "I think that deception has really worked for me."
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.
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