Two days after suffering their first midweek loss of the season on the road to the Nicholls State Colonels, LSU will host another team of Colonels when Eastern Kentucky comes to Baton Rouge for a three-game set this weekend.
LSU committed a litany of errors and mental mistakes Wednesday night in its 4-2 loss against Nicholls, including failing to cover second base on a ground ball. A run came around to score on the error, helping to decide LSU’s fate in Thibodaux.
Some of those mistakes came by virtue or LSU head coach Paul Mainieri tinkering with the lineup and inserting players at positions they are unfamiliar with or rusty at, trying to see what combination works best and what doesn’t.
“One of the problems with tinkering and doing different things with the infield for example was Mathis playing third and now he’s playing short,” Mainieri said. “He doesn’t quite understand where he should be as a shortstop and then second base gets left uncovered and the kid runs to second base. Stuff like that happens when guys are playing multiple positions because you’re trying to experiment with things. It’s not really their fault.”
It’s not just fielding where the Tigers need to become more consistent. Thursday Mainieiri said the lineup has to be more balanced at the plate and that recently they have been too skewed toward power hitting potential. This weekend he’s going to try to get the team back to the middle ground of offensive philosophy.
“I’ve always preached balance,” Mainieri said. “So you can win a 2-1 game or a 12-11 game. But early in the season, we’ve have a tendency to try to be a home run hitting team, especially against left-handed pitching. But what happens is you sacrifice defense for offense, but then when you don’t get the offense it wasn’t worth the sacrifice that you made. We talked as a staff for a long time and we just need to get more bat handlers in the lineup. I’m not going to take away all of our home run hitters, but you can’t have seven or eight home run hitters that are just going to strikeout a lot.”
In accordance with those statements, Mainieiri has announced several personnel decisions for this weekend. Wes Toups will start in left field for Drew Bianco and Hal Hughes will be re-inserted into the lineup at shortstop to shore up the defense.
Additionally, Alex Milazzo will be bumped up from making one start behind the plate to two this weekend, and he may be the designated hitter on his “off day”.
The freshman defensive whiz has enjoyed a terrific start to his college career, recording four hits in his first 11 at-bats (.364) with three RBI. Milazzo had a crucial two run double to provide insurance late in the Tigers’ 7-4 win over Indiana.
The opportunity to play in a more expanded role is an honor for Milazzo.
“I’ve been working for this my whole life,” Milazzo said. “We’ve been getting after it all fall and all spring. I feel like my coaches have really prepared me for this situation and I’ve prepared myself and my teammates have helped me get prepared. I feel ready.”
Mainieri will also give his starting pitchers a longer leash this weekend. Last weekend against Indiana, all three pitchers were on a strict 75-pitch limit. This weekend that number will be walked up to 90 or six innings of work, whichever comes first.
Like Milazzo, Sunday starting pitcher AJ Labas is ready to serve in an expanded role, something he has been waiting two years for. After carving out a role a midweek starter his freshman season, Labas had to sit out all of 2019 with a shoulder injury.
“I’m definitely ready,” Labas said. “My shoulder is also ready. I’m just going to go out there this weekend and give it my all, hope the best happens.”
Eastern Kentucky opened their season against Presbyterian College in South Carolina, sweeping the Blue Hose 10-9, 6-4 and 10-4 in a seven-inning contest. Their midweek home opener against Kentucky State originally scheduled for Tuesday was cancelled due to rain and wet field conditions.
Colonel sophomore shortstop Logan Thomason hit .500 over the weekend, going 6-12 at the plate with three RBI with a walk. Second baseman Daniel Harris IV went .455, going 5-11 at the plate with four RBI. Both players have a double and a triple to their credit and are considered by several source to be some of the top hitters in the country.
“(Mainieri) talked to us early in the week and told us not to take them lightly because of those two guys,” Labas said. “(LSU pitching coach Alan Dunn) has a plan so we’re going to go out there and execute that plan.”
Friday night’s series opener will mark the first time the two programs have ever crossed paths. Game one will be at 7:00 p.m. Friday, game two Saturday at 3:00, and the Sunday finale at 11:00 a.m. All three games will be broadcast online on the SEC Network+. Friday and Sunday’s game will be broadcast over the airwaves on 98.1 FM, with Saturday’s game moving to 100.7.