After a promising finish to his freshman season, LSU's Ryan Eades has turned in a strong summer in…
Dunn's deal: Off to a fast start
Only problem is that Dunn hasn't spent a whole lot of time in Baton Rouge since he was introduced by Tigers' coach Paul Mainieri.
Instead, the 49-year-old Dunn has spent most of this summer criss-crossing the country. Watching pitchers – current and future – to get a gauge on what he'll have to work with when LSU's players get to campus.
Back in the college game for the first since 1992, Dunn has quickly gotten reacquainted with the recruiting process with a summer chock full of scouring the country for the next wave of arms LSU will need to climb back into the SEC's upper echelon.
He has also made stops around the map to watch current pitchers in action in summer-league ball.
So the getting familiar thing? That's on the backburner until the school year starts and Dunn can stop to catch his breath.
"It's been a whirlwind, but it's been good for me and for what we need to accomplish," Dunn said recently. "Basically I've come in at the busiest time from a recruiting standpoint and it's been a great chance to see a lot of very talented kids. I've been on the road a lot and gotten the opportunity to really get comfortable with this new challenge."
That challenge is to evaluate and train pitchers from a much different perspective than Dunn has been used to as a minor-league pitching coach the last 19 seasons, with a brief stint in the big leagues with the Baltimore Orioles.
With stops in nine different cities with the Chicago Cubs and Baltimore organizations, Dunn has worked extensively with every level of professional pitcher since 1993 and has been able to catalog a wealth of experience that he thinks will be valuable with a different pupils at an earlier stage of their emergence.
"One of the things I'm doing differently right now with this job is evaluating 15-17 year old kids and projecting what they might be like in two years, three years, five years," said Dunn, who had a solid three-year career as a pitcher at Alabama in the early 1980s before spending time in the Detroit Tigers' farm system for several seasons.
"Where I was before, we got kids who were pretty much who they were going to be. The projection was pretty much done. It was more about this being the ability you have and we had to figure out how we could make it work and get those players to the big leagues. Now I'm getting to work with guys who are a lot younger and their potential is still raw and it's a chance to really teach the game more."
And Dunn certainly won't have a shortage of canvas to work with.
Besides senior Ben Alsup and juniors Matty Ott and Tyler Jones, the LSU pitching staff returns intact and anchored by a core group of ultra-talented rising sophomores – including weekend rotation mainstays Kurt McCune and Kevin Gausman and Ryan Eades, who started the final two Sunday games in SEC play and has turned in a stellar summer for the Bourne (Mass.) Braves in the Cape Cod League.
Those three hard-throwing right-handers will have plenty of company and competition for the weekend starting spots from incoming freshmen Aaron Nola and Cody Glenn, with junior Nick Goody on the way as the probable closer.
"I'm excited to get back on campus and get to know Coach Dunn and see how he can help me develop," said McCune, who led the Tigers with seven wins last season. "He's worked with guys at the big-league level. He has a lot of energy and wants to be on the field and working with guys at the college level."
In fact, getting on the field can't come quickly enough for Dunn.
As much as he has embraced recruiting and evaluating pitchers this summer, Dunn admits being off the diamond at this time of year has motivated him more than ever.
"I'm really looking forward to getting back on the field and doing what I've done most of my career – work with young pitchers and see how I can help them work hard and get better," Dunn said. "I'm very eager to get to know these young guys we have, the ones who are here and the ones coming in, and see how we're going to run things."
McCune said he has spent time in Dunn's office on the handful of days he's been in town, although his time on the mound has been limited thus summer after he logged 89.2 innings, which matched Gausman for most on the team.
Only recently McCune has gone back to work in preparation of a fall season when everybody on the young and bursting-with-potential pitching staff will be thrust into a competitive battle to decide roles for the 2012 season.
"My arm just feels alive right now," McCune said. "That little break is just what I needed. The ball is jumping out of my hand right now. My mechanics are good, my breaking pitches are still sharp and I feel really good. I'm anxious to get together with Coach Dunn and see what else I can do to improve."
And that competition thing?
McCune said he can't wait to welcome Nola, Glenn, Goody and whoever else arrives on campus and help them get acclimated to the college level and what they have to do to be ready when February rolls around.
"I'm very excited about the guys we have coming in," McCune said. "I know Aaron has probably got the same work ethic as (older brother Austin Nola), and that he's going to be a big part of the pitching staff next year. Last year I was in their same shoes and I'm looking forward to helping these new guys make that transition. The better they get and the more they can contribute, the more I've got to push to stay ahead of them and that's good for me."
The more for Dunn to work with as well.
In the meantime, he's focused on mastering the other aspect of his job that will loom large in the next few seasons.
"Recruiting is something I've really enjoyed since I came back to this level and it helps to go out there with the LSU name," Dunn said. "From the tradition and history that LSU has built a foundation on, it helps a lot. Everybody knows the LSU name. It definitely opens doors and I have found that people are very interested in our program for sure and now we have to make sure that continues."
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