But statues don’t throw fastballs at 100, 100, 101, 101, 100, 101, 102, 101, 100, 101, 100 and 100 mph to start the most hyped game of the college season. Nor can a statue decide, in the heat of all those fastballs, to spin a slider for strike three, out three in the bottom of the first, zipping it past some sorry swing.
On Opening Day for Major League Baseball, Skenes, Dylan Crews and Chase Dollander — three of the top four draft prospects — shared a field in Baton Rouge. Skenes, the 6-foot-6 highlight reel, led LSU alongside Crews, the outfielder who could go first overall this summer. Dollander, a hard-throwing right-hander like Skenes, pitched for Tennessee. So for the Washington Nationals, picking second in July, there was a thud to start the season — a 7-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves — before more hope emerged down South.
The game at the Box set a school attendance record at 13,068. Among the packed stands were scouts and front-office members for many teams, a handful of them catching batting and infield practice long before first pitch. Sure, LSU won, 5-2, a score that mattered to a whole lot of people wearing purple and gold. But for fans and employees of MLB’s worst teams, the important stats were Skene’s 12 strikeouts in seven innings, Dollander’s zeros before he hit a bump in the fifth and Crews’s single off Dollander and stolen base that followed.
Every pitch was booed or cheered by the sellout crowd, then recorded in a notebook or tablet computer by evaluators. No one could look away.
“There was just no margin for error with any pitcher who was on the mound tonight,” LSU Coach Jay Johnson said. “Five pitchers took the mound. I believe all five of them can pitch in the major leagues someday.”
At the top of most draft boards, Crews, Skenes and Dollander are joined by Wyatt Langford, an outfielder from the University of Florida. On Thursday, the Nationals had Kevin Ham, a Houston-based scout, on hand. General Manager Mike Rizzo expects to see all four players at least once, as well as Mississippi shortstop Jacob Gonzalez. Before Washington makes a decision — a decision that will hinge, at least in part, on what the Pittsburgh Pirates do with the first selection — each player will be watched by many members of the front office and scouting department.
Crews, a right-handed-hitting outfielder, entered the series with a .542 batting average, .667 on-base percentage and a .988 slugging percentage through 25 games. It’s hard to post those numbers in a video game, let alone in Division I baseball. He finished Thursday 1 for 4 with a hard-hit out in the first.
Hollander, once a transfer from Georgia Southern, worked in and out of trouble for four innings, holding the Tigers to one hit. But in the fifth, he misplaced a 96-mph fastball, and Gavin Dugas rocked it for a two-run homer. The ball disappeared into the night, leaving the press box without an estimated distance. Hollander often pitched backward to LSU’s hitters, mixing his slider, change-up and a looping curve to set up a fastball that sat between 96 and 98 mph with wavering command.