With the tying run coming to the plate and nobody out in the seventh inning during last Sunday’s game against Texas Southern, LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri had a plethora of pitching arms to choose from.
After comfortable wins over Virginia Tech and Toledo in the previous two days, this was the first time during the weekend where the outcome was still in doubt for LSU. But instead of turning to veterans like Joe Broussard or Kurt McCune — guys that have been in similar situations on the mound in the past — Mainieri made the call for freshman Parker Bugg.
“I had no doubt that he was going to come in, pound the strike zone and get the job done for us,” Mainieri said about the decision. “Bugg paid his coach back in spades as he retired all three batters that he faced and emphatically capped it off by fanning two to get LSU out of the jam in a game that they would eventually go on to win, 4-1.
“Sometimes a coach just has to go with his gut feeling,” Mainieri said. “That’s based on several factors: talent, poise, competitiveness and Parker has got all of those things.”
One of Bugg’s biggest fans at that moment was fellow freshman pitcher, Jared Poche’, who started the game and needed his teammate to get out of the jam if he wanted his second consecutive win.
“Parker has been doing that every outing and is taking advantage of his opportunities,” Poche’ said. “He’s the tallest guy on the team, so he gives hitters a different look and makes it hard on them.”
In addition to Mainieri and his teammates, Bugg has already made a huge impression on the home fans despite last Sunday’s outing being just his third appearance of the season. Of the three innings that Bugg has pitched for LSU, he has faced just 12 batters but still leads the rest of the bullpen with seven strikeouts.
But even with that high strikeout rate early on, Bugg admits that — despite his towering six-foot-six frame and a fastball that can get up to 92 miles-per-hour on a good day — he is simply looking to put the ball in the strike zone and let his defense behind him do the rest.
The “problem” with that, though, is that opposing hitters are not making contact.
“I usually just try to pound the zone early and pitch to contact for a ground ball or pop up,” Bugg said. “But, I guess whatever it takes to get the outs, I’ll take it.”
Bugg’s road to LSU began roughly 1,700 miles out west in San Diego, Calif.
With a father who played both baseball and basketball at Louisville and a mother who played field hockey at Eastern Kentucky, Bugg was born with athletic pedigree. At Rancho Bernardo High School, Bugg was apart of two city championships as the school’s top pitcher.
After getting drafted in by the Baltimore Orioles in the 34th round of the 2013 MLB Draft, Bugg opted to go to LSU where he immediately showed Mainieri and pitching coach Alan Dunn what he was capable of during fall practices.
When the team reconvened in January, that rising momentum came to a screeching halt with Bugg missing most of the preseason practices due to a bout with mononucleosis.
“It has been an adjustment, but it helped coming into the fall and throwing against the team,” Bugg said. “That’s where you really learn and then apply it during the season.”
But he was able to recover in time for the start of the season. His first outing came in the ninth inning of LSU’s 7-4 win over UNO. It was a roller coaster of a collegiate debut for Bugg as two hit batters loaded the bases, however he eventually struck out the side without allowing a run to earn the save and gain some much-needed experience under his belt.
“That first outing didn’t really go that smooth, but I learned what I needed to do to get out of it,” he said. “That has helped and will continue to help.”
Coming into the season, LSU’s bullpen talent was one of the main things that Mainieri had serious questions about. With the season still in its infancy, the competition has become fierce between a host of pitchers that are experiencing the pressure that comes with LSU baseball for the first time.
Bugg’s early success certainly has him feeling confident, but he knows that nothing is set in stone just yet. With three weeks until Southeastern Conference play begins, he wants to be someone that Mainieri can call on when the Tigers are in a tough situation with Mississippi State or Vanderbilt, in addition to the Texas Southern’s and the UNO’s of the world.
“There’s still a lot up in the air,” Bugg said. “When guys get called on, they just have to go out and keep performing and that’s what I intend to do.”