Austin Bain is doing a little bit of everything for LSU these days.
Provide some pop in the middle of the batting order as a designated hitter? Sure.
Jog out of the bullpen in the ninth inning and try to nail down a save? No problem.
How about come off the bench with LSU down to its last out and tie the game with a two-run double before taking the mound in a tie game? It didn’t end great, but A for effort.
“I’m just going to do what I can wherever I’m needed,” Bain smiled. “And I’m going to do the best to my abilities there.”
The senior has been something of a revelation to LSU so far this season. He’s hitting .300 at the plate with six doubles and nine RBI. Only Beau Jordan and Antoine Duplantis have more total bases than Bain’s 21. He’s also pitched to a 1.35 ERA with 10 strikeouts in 6.2 innings of work on the mound.
Neither his hitting mechanics — one assistant coach likened him to Hunter Pence: “it’s not pretty, but when he hits it, it goes” — nor his windup are cookie cutter in the technical sense. Lots of arms and legs all over the place with enough athleticism to make it work.
It’s a surprise to most, but not his fellow pitchers.
“We’ve always given him a hard time at how he’s so good at all these random things,” LSU right-hander Caleb Gilbert said. “There’s no surprise he’s putt the bat on the ball and having some great at-bats for us.”
Random things like what? According to Gilbert, he’s great at throwing a Frisbee, ping pong and pretty much all video games. Bain is a pretty good golfer, too, and one who teammates say drives it a country mile off the tee.
“Pretty much anything he can’t make money on he’s good at,” Gilbert added.
His next potential challenge became apparent Thursday: first base.
Bain spent most of practice digging low throws out of the dirt and getting used to the footwork of playing first base. He hasn’t played there in a game since little league, he said, but he’s up to give it a try.
“I played there growing up a little bit, but not much,” Bain said. “Just a new position learning the ins and outs, and I’m going to tap the minds of as many first basemen on the team and get any tips. I’m going to do the best I can with what I know and what I’m going to learn.”
Mainieri explained two reasons for having Bain give base a shot. First off, with Nick Coomes out for the weekend due to a concussion, Bryce Jordan is once again the emergency catcher. LSU would rather sub in Bain at first than freshman Nick Webre, who played there opening weekend.
The other reason is it presents another way to keep his red-hot bat in the lineup. With the outfield fully healthy again, Beau Jordan will occupy the DH spot on days that Daniel Cabrera plays left field.
It’s also a potential “tweak” in a more lasting sense as Mainieri looks for ways to improve his infield defense after a rough showing in Lafayette on Wednesday night. The coach hasn’t been shy about his feeling that LSU wouldn’t have allowed two runs to score on a squeeze play if first baseman Bryce Jordan fielded the ball.
“He’s just the man right now,” Mainieri said. “He can do just about anything he wants to out there. He’s actually a really good infielder, so I figure he can handle himself at first base.”
Bain was working at first base with the rest of the starting infield in live hitting drills during practice Thursday. If he indeed plays there against Hawaii this weekend, that’ll be just the latest chapter in what’s already an unlikely comeback story.
A two-way player out of high school, Bain focused on pitching as a freshman and worked his way into the weekend rotation. Despite the promising rookie season, he toiled in relative anonymity the past two years while batting injury and ineffectiveness.
His path to becoming a jack of all trades started this fall, when Mainieri asked him to play second base on days he didn’t pitch so LSU could field two full infields for intra-squad scrimmages. He’s one of only three seniors on the roster, and Mainieri wanted to find a way for him to contribute.
But Bain shook off the rust at the plate as his took more batting practice. His natural power earned him some at-bats once the season started, particularly as the injury bug bit LSU hard, and he’s hit his way into more and more opportunities since then.
“I’m having fun,” Bain said last week after crushing a 429-foot home run off the TV tower just left of straightaway center field. “It’s completely changed the game of baseball for me back to where I’m like a little kid again. I’m just having fun.”
Bain has already proved he’s more than a pitcher who can rake. So why not let him try his multi-talented hand at first base?