Ranaudo tall order for Florida hitters

LSU right-hander Anthony Ranaudo’s résumé isn’t all that makes him intimidating. His 6-7, 230-pound frame standing on the pitcher’s mound can make hitters feel like they are looking straight up to see the ball out of his hand. This Friday night, he will be towering over the mound of McKethan Stadium as the toughest pitcher the Florida Gators will face at home this season.

The LSU ace put himself on the national radar with his 2009 sophomore season when he went 12-3 with a 3.04 ERA. In 19 starts and 124-1/3 innings, he struck out 159 batters, good for third in the nation.

Ranaudo picked up the win in game three of the championship series against Texas last year when LSU won the College World Series. He was also named to the 2009 College World Series All-Tournament Team.

“I remember watching him pitch in the [College] World Series last year, and I thought he really came into his own there,” Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said.

The Gators saw Ranaudo at his best last May in Baton Rouge. The right-hander pitched seven stout innings, allowing six hits, one run and recording seven strikeouts in a 10-1 LSU victory.

As dominant as he was last season, this year has been a different story. After his first start of the season, an opening night victory over Centenary, Ranaudo felt some discomfort in his throwing arm. The LSU staff decided to play it safe with him and hold him out. The injury lingered for a month when he made his return at Tennessee, but the injury may have hurt his draft stock.

Before the start of the season, ESPN’s MLB Draft expert Keith Law had Ranaudo as the No. 2 player in this summer’s draft. But is injury has hurt his stock in a few draft publications.

Ranaudo has been hit or miss this season. He is 2-1 with a 6.35 ERA. In 22-2/3 innings pitched, he has allowed 23 hits and 18 runs (16 earned), while striking out 24 batters. However, the stats are inflated because of the worst outing of his career last weekend at Ole Miss. He lasted only 1-2/3 innings, giving up nine hits, nine runs and only two strikeouts against the Rebels. With that start removed from his statistics, his ERA is 3.33.

Even though his fastball reaches the mid-90s, LSU’s ace isn’t just a pitcher who can throw hard. He compliments the fastball with a changeup and curveball that keep the hitters off balance.

The pitches would be effective coming out of the hand of any pitcher. But when his 6-7 frame is taken into account, the ball jumps on the hitters with what seems like more velocity from a shorter pitcher.

“The ball comes up on you quicker,” Florida outfielder Preston Tucker said. “It really jumps on you. When you’re facing a guy who is 5-10 and he’s throwing just as hard as a guy throwing 6-7, everybody is going to say the guy who is 6-7 looks like he is throwing a lot harder. The ball isn’t at your eye level. There is more tilt to the ball and the breaking ball is tougher to see. It’s a whole different game.”

Florida hitters made the comparison to teammate Greg Larson, who is also listed at 6-7. The taller pitchers release the ball at a point higher off the ground, creating what some hitters refer to as a “two-plane fastball.” The ball is released as high as the batter’s eyes, but if the pitcher hits his spot, it can cross the plate at the batter’s knees.

“It’s a different window,” Florida outfielder Jonathan Pigott said, referring to the area hitters look to pick the ball up out of the pitcher’s hand. “He’s really tough. It’s definitely a different look when he’s up there. He gets a lot of angle on his pitches that you don’t usually see out of a shorter pitcher. The ball has a lot of sink on it because it has to if it is going to get to the bottom of the strike zone.”

The focus this Friday night for Florida will be to turn the tide. Ranaudo’s dominance over the Gators last season gives them an idea of what to expect. Plus, this series will take place in Gainesville.

“He’s a real intimidating guy,” Tucker said. “Going up against him is always tough. I’m sure he’ll be throwing just as well as he did last year, but now we have the advantage of being home.”