By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
Suddenly LSU has an All-SEC sized hole in the middle of its lineup nine days before Opening Night.
Junior Bryce Jordan, an All-SEC designated hitter a season ago likely to serve LSU’s everyday cleanup hitter, will undergo season-ending knee surgery, LSU coach Paul Mainieri announced Wednesday. Jordan started 54 games as a sophomore, hitting .293 with 5 home runs and 33 RBI.
“It’s a pretty significant blow to our team because, as I’ve said many times, I’ve felt he was our most improved hitter from last year,” Mainieri said.
The injury occurred at the tail end of Tuesday’s scrimmage. Jordan was playing third base due to a host of minor injuries so LSU could field a full defense. He overran a foul popup and felt his knee buckle while trying to stop.
Jordan was able to walk off the field, Mainieri said, but MRI results Wednesday morning revealed “significant” structural damage that’ll require surgery.
A specific diagnosis of the injury weren’t readily available. Mainieri only received word a few hours before Wednesday’s practice and had to break the news to his players via text message. Jordan was scheduled to see a knee specialist Wednesday afternoon for further examination.
“My heart is just broken for him,” Mainieri said. The other part of this equation is your team and the effect it’s going to have on them. “Experience tells me that whenever something like this happens, you can walk around and pout for your team or you can hope somebody else steps up and fills the void that is left.”
Anyone not in a starting lineup will be a candidate at designated hitter, Mainieri said, though he’s hoping a player or two step up and grab the job. The first two names mentioned as possible candidates were a pair of right-handed sluggers: Bryce Adams and Jordan Romero.
Adams, who isn’t likely to see much playing time in left field, arguably has more raw power than any Tiger besides Greg Deichmann. He belted a grand slam early last season but recorded only 20 at-bats. Coaches hope he can develop into an all-around hitter and become less home run or bust.
“Everybody knows he can hit the ball a long, long way,” hitting coach Micah Gibbs said. “So I told him there’s a right-center and a right field out there, too. He had the power to hit the ball out to all fields. It’s all about him looking to go the other way, and then when he gets those mistakes in, the reaction is just natural. I want to get him to be a complete hitter and not just a pull-happy home run hitter.”
Romero has already proven himself capable of doing damage when given steady at-bats. He ranked second on the team in home runs (9) and RBI (41) last season. Mainieri also mentioned Nick Coomes, who is presently leading Romero in the battle for the backup catcher job, as a possible designated hitter.
While LSU has enough bats on the bench to fill the position, the bigger loss will be Jordan’s presence in the middle of the lineup. He was slated to hit behind Deichmann, LSU’s top slugger, and provide protection in the heart of the order.
Mainieri must now decide whether to put another power threat behind Deichmann or to use more of a complete all-around hitter in that spot, knowing some teams aren’t going to give the big lefty anything to hit.
There’s also the emotional toll of losing a veteran leader one week before the season. And nobody has spent more time around Bryce than his twin brother, Beau.
Beau says it’ll be the first time they haven’t played together since Bryce missed their junior season at Barbe High School in Lake Charles due to a back injury suffered during preseason camp.
“It sucks having a teammate go down, especially your brother,” Beau said. “It’s been a while since we haven’t played together. It sucks having him down, especially with what he brings to our lineup and what he brings to our team with his competitive passion. But we’ll overcome it and somebody has to step up and fill the spot.”