Ranaudo returns to form

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HOOVER, Ala. – Professional baseball organizations got a crash course on why they shouldn’t doubt LSU right-handed pitcher Anthony Ranaudo.

Ranaudo had one of his better and his longest starts of the season on Wednesday, as he guided the previously sputtering Tigers to a 10-6 win over top-seeded Florida at the SEC tournament.

“It seemed like old times out there tonight with Anthony pitching the way he was,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “It was his best performance of the season. His curveball was really the pitch and made the difference for him. He didn’t hang too many breaking balls and had a lot of bite to his pitches. It was easy for him to pitch with an early lead, but he threw well.”

“Still, I think he can pitch better. I think he has a better game in him.”

Photo LSU is in business in postseason play if Anthony Ranaudo builds off a solid performance.

Perhaps we should’ve seen a start like this coming from Ranaudo. After all, Mainieri proclaimed last week that the percentages probably were in the favor of Ranaudo making a turnaround in the conference tournament as opposed to continuing to struggle. He was due to say the least.

Mainieri didn’t know anything we didn’t know. He knew Ranaudo had the ability to be a dominant pitcher. Everyone, especially pro management, should be reassured by his start against the Gators. The Tigers, aided by Ranaudo’s start, also looked more like a national title contender than a team hoping to solidly stay in the NCAA postseason mix.

Ranaudo took the mound with the same type of confidence often displayed last season during the Tigers’ run to the national title. He was highly animated and ran off the field after each inning. But most importantly, his stuff was nasty, he consistently kept his fastball in the lower 90s and even touched 94 and 95 MPH on a few occasions.

This was the Anthony Ranaudo we’ve expected all-season long.

“He pitched ahead in the count and was getting his breaking ball over early in the count. He was a totally different pitcher,” Florida coach O’Sullivan said. “He went with a couple of pitches today and was really effective.”

It’s safe to say Ranaudo gained strength from the rash of bad performances and setbacks he endured the past few months.

After compiling fantastic numbers last season and helping formulate one of the nation’s top one-two punches with Louis Coleman, Ranaudo entered this season with high hopes, much upside and more glitz and glamour than some Hollywood stars.

In his first start of the season against Centenary, Ranaudo allowed just a run in five innings and finished the contest with six strikeouts.

He left that contest with an arm issue that kept him out of commission until the Tennessee series at the end of March. In Ranaudo’s return against the Volunteers, he threw two scoreless innings. However, that was the last time Ranaudo experienced a wealth of success for a long time.

Ranaudo struggled the rest of SEC play and the numbers speak for themselves. Entering the SEC tournament, Ranaudo had made nine overall starts and had an 8.49 ERA in 35 innings. He also had just 34 strikeouts and 19 walks, while opponents were hitting .308 off him. Even more miserable, Ranaudo compiled a 10.24 ERA in 10 SEC appearances.

Ranaudo’s immense struggles on the mound had more of an impact than just on the Tigers. Some even began to question Ranaudo’s stock as one of the top five pitchers in the upcoming MLB draft. There was a time when he was easily expected to be the second player taken in the draft behind JUCO phenom catcher Bryce Harper. But after the past few weeks, Ranaudo definitely was expected to go behind Mississippi left-handed pitcher Drew Pomeranz in the draft. There were others ahead of him, too. Skeptics still are aplenty.

In his most recent performances, Ranaudo was relegated to the bullpen, where he kept Mississippi State off balance in two appearances.

Back in the starting rotation against the Gators, he finally was back to his old self.

“I really felt good tonight. Really, the last two or three weeks, I’ve felt like my stuff was starting to come back to me. I pitched a couple of innings against Mississippi State and my velocity was back,” Ranaudo back. “I felt like my stuff was pretty good and I had good command of my curveball and other pitches. It was nice to kind of set the tone.”

Naturally, the rest of the Tigers seemed to follow suit.

We will see if Ranaudo can build off his start against the Gators next week when NCAA postseason play begins. For now, though, the Tigers couldn’t be happier.

Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Yahoo! Sports and Rivals.com. Follow him on Twitter and follow Yahoo! Sports College Baseball on Facebook. Send Kendall a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Wednesday, May 26, 2010