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BATON ROUGE, La. – LSU’s baseball team had just started to celebrate a rare full weekend of good pitching, and it lost its pitching coach.
Word spread just as the Tigers were winning the NCAA Regional championship with a 13-7 win over Oregon State on Monday afternoon that Georgia had just confirmed the hiring of LSU pitching coach Wes Johnson.
Johnson has not been at LSU a year yet, but he will stay on through the end of the Tigers’ postseason. That continues on Friday or Saturday when LSU (46-15) hosts a best-of-three Super Regional for the right to go to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska. LSU will play the winner out of Kentucky and Indiana, which were playing Monday night in the NCAA Regional in Lexington, Kentucky.
“I love him like a brother,” LSU coach Jay Johnson said of Wes Johnson, who is not his brother. “I love working with him.”
Wes Johnson Replaces Scott Stricklin At Georgia
Johnson came to LSU at mid-season in 2022 when he was the Minnesota Twins pitching coach, where he had been since the 2019 season. Prior to that, Johnson coached pitchers at Mississippi State in 2016 and at Arkansas in 2017 and ’18. He will replace Scott Stricklin, whom Georgia fired two weeks ago.
“He’s going to do great things at that school,” LSU catcher Hayden Travinski said. “He has a great baseball mind. He’s a great human.”
Wes Johnson Improved LSU’s Pitchers
Other than ace Paul Skenes (11-2, 1.90 ERA), LSU’s pitchers have been inconsistent this season. But they got it together over this weekend by sweeping the NCAA Regional. LSU beat Tulane, 7-2, on Friday and Oregon State, 6-5, on Sunday before Monday’s win. Thatcher Hurd (6-2, 6.49 ERA) has come on strong of late and beat Oregon State with 12 strikeouts while allowing seven hits and four runs.
Seldom-used pitcher Griffin Herring (4-2) picked up the win Monday with three innings of three-hit relief. He allowed two runs and struck out four with one walk.
Johnson has been credited with the development of Skenes, who is projected to be a top five pick in the MLB Draft this summer after arriving as a second round projection. Skenes transfered to LSU from Air Force after last season and has added velocity while dropping his earned run average. He was 10-3 with a 2.73 ERA last season with 96 strikeouts in 85 and two-thirds innings. He has struck out 179 in 99 and one third innings this season. Skenes averaged 93 mph on his fastball last season and has been averaging 98 mph recently this season.
“When he showed up for fall ball, and just because of a different weight program, he picked up 3 mph on his fastball,” former LSU pitcher Ben McDonald told OutKick on Sunday. The first pick of the 1989 MLB Draft by Baltimore, McDonald was in town broadcasting the Regional for ESPN.
Paul Skenes Jumped Dramatically Under Wes Johnson
“And then he got with Wes Johnson, and he cleaned up his mechanics, and he picked up another 2 or 3 mph on top of that,” McDonald said. “So, the fastball has gone from averaging 93 mph a year ago to above 98 this year. He wasn’t mechanically as smooth as what he should have been. He revamped the breaking ball. He’s throwing that sweeping slider that all the big league guys are throwing now. That comes from Wes Johnson having big league experience. Paul credits Wes a lot for his success and his jump. When the season began, he was projected as the No. 4 college pitcher off the board, and clearly he’s going to be the first college pitcher off the board.”
Johnson is just glad he will have Wes Johnson for the rest of the season.
“I don’t have any reason to worry about how we’re going to roll going forward,” Johnson said.
Johnson knew he was losing his pitching coach before the NCAA Regional opened last Friday.
“This has been done for five days,” he said.