By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
LSU’s catching ranks are precariously thin heading into this weekend’s series against Wichita State, but the Tigers’ lead backstop is adding a bit of versatility back into his game.
Junior catcher Mike Papierski will resume switch hitting effective immediately, LSU coach Paul Mainieri announced Thursday. Papierski, who’d switch hit for most of his life, made the initial change to hitting only right-handed before last summer’s NCAA Tournament.
“He’s had a little bit of an issue with facing right handers, especially with breaking balls,” Mainieri said. “He’s just lacking a bit of confidence right now when he’s facing those right-handed breaking ball guys. I think getting back in the left-handed box will be a little bit of an uplift for him.”
Papierski is hitting .267 in 30 at-bats so far this season, but he’s got only one more base hit (8) than he does strikeouts (7). He conceded he’s struggled against right-handed pitchers throwing him sliders that break down and away from him when batting right handed.
It’s a matter of comfort for Papierski. Prior to last year, he hadn’t swung right-on-righty since he was eight years old. Papierski never fully abandoned switch hitting, taking occasional left-handed cuts on his own in the batting cages. He fully resumed switch hitting in practice Thursday.
“I’m definitely more comfortable going righty-on-lefty because I’ve done it for so long, practically my whole life,” Papierski said. “Going back to it wasn’t very hard. I’m pretty happy, ready to go and we’ll see what happens.”
LSU couldn’t have a more uniquely-qualified hitting coach to aid Papierski. Micah Gibbs was an All-American backstop and feared switch hitter in his playing days.
Gibbs switch hit all his life until he reached Class A ball in the Chicago Cubs system. Near the tail end of the season, the organization asked Gibbs to give hitting exclusively right handed a try.
The first right-handed pitcher he stepped into the box against was none other than the late, great Jose Fernandez. Gibbs remembers striking out in that at-bat and going back to switch hitting after the season.
“As a switch hitter, I remember from that left side with right-eye dominant, you just see the ball so much better,” Gibbs said. “It’s one of those things where you’re so comfortable because you see the ball so well. You could tell when we got in the cage earlier today that it was a little rusty at first, but as he swung he started feeling a lot better. And his swings here off the machine have been really good.”
Getting Papierski’s bat going has become imperative as LSU deals with a banged-up catching corps.
The coach announced Thursday that backup Nick Coomes would likely miss this weekend due to a sore hip. The LSU-Eunice transfer irritated the hip during last Saturday’s win against Baylor and felt “severe pain” Monday, Mainieri said. Coomes would’ve caught against McNeese State if healthy.
“We got him checked out, and the prudent thing is to give a little bit of rest,” Mainieri said. “It’s going to be something that’s manageable, at least through the end of the season, but we’ve just got to pick and choose our times when we choose to give him some rest.”
Jordan Romero, LSU’s other backup catcher, continues to deal with a sore ankle and shoulder troubles that plagued him during the fall. He’s more likely to serve as a designated hitter at this point, Mainieri said. He pinch hit Tuesday, but his ankle has been swollen since serving as the designated hitter for three consecutive days in Houston.
The Tigers lost Bryce Jordan, the emergency catcher, to a preseason knee injury. Mainieri indicated Coomes would be the emergency catcher this weekend if such an emergency were to arise.
“Our catching situation is a little bit precarious right now,” Mainieri said. “We’re just going to have to right through it and do the best we can with that.”