By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
A reshuffling of the batting order did little to rouse a slumping LSU lineup back to life.
The Tigers managed just three hits against Texas A&M ace Brigham Hill, who fired eight shutout innings to send LSU to its fourth loss in five games, 4-0, in the series opener at Alex Box Stadium on Thursday night.
LSU didn’t so much as advance a runner into scoring position until the ninth inning and committed three errors in the field on an all-around ugly night for LSU’s position players. The top four hitters in the order — the veteran core Paul Mainieri challenged Wednesday to lead the way out of the club’s recent offensive malaise — finished a combined 1-for-14.
“There’s not much to say,” Mainieri said. “When you don’t score any runs, it’s hard to win the game. We obviously are in a little bit or a rut offensively, and we just need to come out of it.”
Alex Lange battled awfully hard to keep LSU in the game, but suffered his second hard-luck loss in as many weeks all the same. He scattered nine hits over eight innings while striking out 12. At one point he recorded 12 out of 15 outs via the strikeout in the 10th double-digit punchout game of his career.
Lange was utterly brilliant aside from one mistake, a two-run home run in the fifth, but just like his ill-fated duel with Alex Faedo in Gainesville six days prior, his offense just couldn’t muster any support. LSU has been shut out in back-to-back Lange starts since erupting for 22 runs against Georgia.
“I feel for the guy because he’s thrown two excellent games,” said shortstop Kramer Robertson, himself mired in a 1-for-25 slump. “He throwing the ball so well and we didn’t give him any support. Two games and we haven’t given him one run. He’s pitching well enough to win — more than well enough to win — but it’s important not to press … Some of these balls are going to start falling soon.”
The dueling right-handed aces matched zeroes with each other through four innings. Lange stranded a pair of runners on base in the second inning and struck out the side to leave another man in scoring position after allowing a leadoff single in the fourth.
Texas A&M broke through in the fifth. Coll Stanley singled with one out and moved into scoring position on a wayward throw from Mike Papierski. Leadoff man Nick Choruby then took Lange deep to right for a two-run home run to break the scoreless draw.
The Aggies had a golden opportunity to tack on more runs in the sixth. Two singles and a wild pitch advances two runners into scoring position with only one out, but Lange came back with back-to-back strikeouts on curveballs in the dirt to hold the deficit at 2-0.
Hill, meanwhile, put the game on cruise control in the middle innings. At one point he retired 10 Tigers in a row in a stretch that lasted from the third inning until a leadoff walk to Antoine Duplantis to begin the seventh. Hill then promptly retired the heart of the LSU lineup in order.
“Obviously Hill is good, he’s one of the best pitchers in the league,” Mainieri said. “I think we helped him a lot. We swung at a lot of bad pitches tonight.”
Lange worked his way out of jam after jam to keep his team within striking distance. He struck out the side in the seventh and stranded a man at third base after a leadoff double in the eighth. He held the Aggies to 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position.
Texas A&M finally got its insurance runs against reliever Matt Beck in the ninth. A Cole Freeman error and hit-and-run single led to a bases-loaded jam, and Cole Bedford rifled a hanging curveball into left field for a two-run single.
LSU will look to even the series on Friday night with Jared Poche’ on the mound. First pitch is set for 8 p.m. as the Tigers continue to search for a spark to break themselves out of this funk.
“Obviously no one player is to blame,” Mainieri said. “We’re all in this together, but we’ve just got to get some confidence going, and obviously the older guys have to lead the way … Feeling sorry for yourself isn’t going to get the job done. You’ve got to get back after it and compete. I believe we will tomorrow.”