Hunter Feduccia played so well back in the fall that Mason Doolittle, his primary competition for the starting catcher job, left the program over winter break to pursue more playing time elsewhere.
That feels like an awfully long time ago at this point, but LSU is doing all it can to help get Feduccia back to playing at that level again.
Feduccia is mired in the midst of a brutal slump at the plate in conjunction with costly mistakes and pretty obvious regression behind it. The sharp downturn in offensive production and defensive reliability has been befuddling for a team that’s short on quality options behind him.
“We’re just going to keep working with him,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “Listen, he’s the best we’ve got.”
One statistic seems to put the totality of the junior’s recent struggles into perspective: since the start of Southeastern Conference play on March 16, Feduccia has been charged with as many pass balls (3) as he has base hits (3) in 31 at-bats.
Feduccia, who was LSU’s leading run producer as recently as mid-March, has only driven in one run in 10 games during that span. Mainieri bumped him up to the No. 3 spot in the lineup Saturday as a show of faith, but there’s no tangible proof it did any good.
“It’s definitely rough right now,” Feduccia said. “I’ve been working with (LSU hitting coach Sean) Ochinko a lot on my swing. I’ve been looking at video of my swing from the fall because I hit pretty good in the fall. I’d gotten away from it, but it’s starting to feel a lot better.”
The hitting woes are ancillary compared to the problems defensively for a catcher. LSU happily carried low batting averages from players like Mike Papierski and Ty Ross for years because of their work behind the plate blocking balls and controlling opposing running games.
Feduccia has plenty of arm strength to throw out would-be base stealers, but almost inexplicable struggles receiving the ball or transferring it from glove to hand have nullified the cannon he has attached to his right shoulder.
“I think I’m just trying to rush it,” Feduccia said. “I don’t know. I’m trying to rush it, not taking my time and it’s gotten me in trouble the past few games. Just focus on grabbing the ball. It’s not hard to fix, but in the moment I’ve just got to think about it.”
All too often those extra bases are turning out to be ones LSU can’t afford to yield. The decisive run has scored on a pass ball charged to Feduccia in two of LSU’s past three losses.
A cross up with Ma’Khail Hilliard — Feduccia called for a curveball and got a changeup — was to blame for the ball that bounded off his glove in a 1-0 loss to Vanderbilt, but the two balls that got by him for runs on Friday night were the result of trying to frame pitches as a strike before actually catching them.
“If we’ve said it once we’ve said it 1,000 times, the most important thing that a catcher can do is catch the ball,” Mainieri said. “For our standards, it’s unacceptable to drop a pitch in the entire game. But it all starts with the most basic fundamental of the game.”
LSU has been working with Feduccia on these things each and every day during practice, but blocking 1,000 balls in the dirt during a drill still doesn’t capture the speed and pressure of a game scenario.
It’s not an exact science, but Mainieri said LSU planned to put Feduccia in some more live situations during practice Monday to get that rhythm and confidence going again before the Tigers host Nicholls State on Tuesday night at Alex Box Stadium.
LSU is going to put a pitcher on the mound, a hitter in the box and send a runner from first base to make Feduccia catch and throw in real time.
“He does it between innings fine, so we’ve just got to have him do it a few times,” Mainieri said. “Everything in this game to me is a confidence thing. You do it a few times, all the sudden you start feeling better about yourself.”
LSU preaches to every position — catcher in particular, given its importance defensively — to not take bad at-bats into the field, but the staff will take any positive upon which it can build at this point as Feduccia struggles to find the confidence that won him the catching duties in the first place.