LSU travels to take on Nicholls State Wednesday night
By JAMES MORAN
Tiger Rag Associate Editor
Kramer Robertson hasn’t played shortstop in a real game since high school.
Paul Mainieri announced Tuesday the junior will start there Wednesday night as LSU travels to take on Nicholls State and remain for the Tigers’ three-game weekend set against Fordham. Cole Freeman will flip flop with him and play second base.
“I’ve played there my whole life,” Robertson said. “I’m going to have to take a lot of ground balls there and get used to it because it’s been since September since I’ve been there, but I don’t think it’ll take long. It’s kind of like riding a bike.
“Just throw and catch.”
With just two weeks remaining before the start of SEC play, Mainieri says this is the last week for ‘experimenting’ before settling on an infield to play all of next week ahead of Alabama coming to town on March 18. It’ll be a fifth infield configuration in eight games for LSU (5-2).
Timing in the schedule is one component that weighed into Mainieri’s decision. The other was a swelling confidence in his most veteran infielder to handle the more difficult assignment.
“Until the last couple of weeks, I wondered if Kramer had the maturity and poise to be the shortstop at LSU,” Mainieri said. “But there’s no question in my mind now that he’s got it. It’s all sunk in. All the coaching we’ve tried to do for two-and-a-half years. He has evolved into that veteran leader that plays with a level of maturity, knowledge of the game and instincts. I feel like I have a coach on the field.
“I’m so confident in him now that he can handle everything that it’s worth a try to see if this works.”
Mainieri said his greatest hesitation in trying the switch had been how well Robertson has played thus far at second base. More errors will be committed at short than at second, and until recently, the idea of Robertson becoming discouraged if and when he makes one cast doubt in the coach’s mind.
Robertson, who was recruited as a shortstop out of Midway High in Texas, acknowledges that a lack of maturity contributed to keeping him on the bench for the majority of his freshmen and sophomore seasons.
Today, he agrees with his coach’s assessment that his experience makes him the natural fit to slide into a position naturally befitting one of the team’s vocal leaders.
“I think maturity, confidence, all of that had a role in moving me over there,” Robertson said. “Just kind of giving everyone a calming effect in the infield. I’m the only one that’s been there for an extended period of time in the past, so it’s my job to be the quarterback of the infield at second or short or wherever I am. (Mainieri) noticed that I guess, and if it’s best for the team I’m all for it.”
From a technical perspective, the biggest transition is the length of the throw across the diamond and not having the luxury to waiting on a slow roller.
Mainieri called Robertson into his office Monday to inform him of the news. By the time Robertson returned to his locker, there was a text message on his phone from the man who’d played the position at an All-American level the past three seasons — Alex Bregman.
“He just told me you’re ready for this, and you know how good you are,” Robertson said.
True freshman O’Neal Lochridge will remain LSU’s starting third baseman, but Mainieri at this point says he’s “not sure” who will wind up as his permanent first baseman.
Bryce Jordan, who started Sunday after Greg Deichmann committed his second error of the season, will get the start against the Colonels (4-5) while Deichmann again serves as the DH.
While Jordan doesn’t have the ideal height to play the position — standing at 5-foot-9, Mainieri joked he “wished he was five inches taller” — he held his own Sunday, even saving his teammates a couple errors on high throws.
One such grateful compatriot was Lochridge, who Jordan bailed out with a leaping grab and sweep tag in the sixth inning, has promised to repay the favor.
“It didn’t look very athletic, but I just had to get the job done,” Jordan laughed. “He said I’ll take you out to eat anywhere you want to go. I thought that was pretty funny. I just have to do what I can. I know Coach said I’m short, but we’ve put short people (at first base) before. It’s not like it’s not going to work out.”
While the infield shakeup is far and away the day’s biggest news, Wednesday night marks a pivotal start for right-hander Austin Bain (0-0, 6.75 ERA). Staked to an 8-0 lead last Wednesday at Lamar, the sophomore failed to make it past the fourth inning.
“I didn’t have good fastball command and my off-speed wasn’t helping me out either,” Bain said of his previous start.
Nicholls will counter with 6-foot-5 right-hander Jake Smith. He’s 1-1 with a 6.23 ERA in two starts this season, striking out 12 and walking seven in 8.2 innings of work.
– Left-handed pitcher Jake Latz (elbow) continues to throw off flat ground. Mainieri said he was “encouraged” after watching the sophomore throw pain-free from about 90 feet without any setbacks. “His arm speed looked good. He was painless. The ball was coming out of his hand good.”
– Outfielder Cody Ducote, who has been out since the start of camp after slicing his hand in a bizarre accident in which he fell on broken glass under a pile of leaves, took 15 swings off a tee. He said he expects to be cleared ‘full go’ in two weeks. Mainieri didn’t set any timetable for him to return to game action, but said he “wouldn’t anticipate that would be any time soon.”
– Right-handed reliever Collin Strall, who hasn’t pitched yet this season, had an MRI on his sore right shoulder come back negative for structural damage. He’s now taking anti-inflammatory medication for what Mainieri said was likely tendinitis or a strain. In the meantime he continues to rehab: “As soon as he and the trainer tell me he’s ready to pitch, we’ll know that’s an option, but I don’t have idea how long that’s going to be,” Mainieri said.