BATON ROUGE, La. — The LSU baseball team has already taken its first loss of the 2018 season months before it actually gets underway. Freshman pitcher Eric Walker, who helped bring the Tigers to the 2017 College World Series, will miss all of next season.
According to LSU coach Paul Mainieri, Walker has been diagnosed with a tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing elbow and will undergo reconstructive surgery.
The loss is a devastating one for the Tigers, who now have to replace their entire starting pitching rotation with Walker hurt and Jared Poché and Alex Lange departing for pro baseball.
“Obviously, the news on Eric’s elbow is very disheartening,” Mainieri said in a school release. “First of all, my heart bleeds for Eric as this is not the conclusion to a wonderful freshman year that any of us envisioned. Eric was a rock all year in our weekend rotation and a vital contributor to our SEC Championship, as well as our appearance in the College World Series.”
Walker is scheduled to have Tommy John surgery next Wednesday in his hometown of Arlington, Texas. It will be performed by Dr. Keith Meister, the head team physician of the Texas Rangers.
For his part, Walker is embracing the challenge that faces him in post-surgery rehab.
“Sometimes it’s more difficult to understand, but never ask ‘Why me?'” he posted on his Instagram account.
Walker was at his best when the stakes were highest, molding into much more than a capable Sunday starter. He was on the mound for LSU’s SEC tournament championship win over Arkansas and then pitched into the ninth inning as the Tigers closed out Rice for the Baton Rouge regional title. Walker allowed a combined 1 run in those two starts.
Walker left with forearm discomfort in the second inning of LSU’s eventual 13-1 loss to Oregon State in Game 2 of the College World Series. Though LSU rallied back through the loser’s bracket to make the championship series, the loss of Walker was one factor that made topping Florida a task that was too tall.
“Had Eric not become hurt, there is no telling how the finals of the CWS could have turned out,” Mainieri said. “He’s an outstanding young man with great leadership ability, and I have no doubt he will meet this challenge in his life as he does every other challenge. He will return to our team better than ever for the 2019 season.”
Walker started 17 games for the Tigers in 2017, posting an 8-2 record with a 3.48 ERA in 95.2 innings. He recorded 23 walks and 78 strikeouts and limited opponents to a .233 batting average.
For now, Mainieri has to figure out how to replace him — to say nothing of doing the same for Poché and Lange.
“Not having Eric as a veteran returner in 2018 is quite a blow to our team,” Mainieri said. “However, others will get an opportunity and I’m certain (LSU pitching coach) Alan Dunn will work his magic with them, and they’ll step up and help the Tigers win. We will have many outstanding candidates that will develop, and I’m sure we will still have a formidable pitching staff for next season.”