By JAMES MORAN
Tiger Rag Associate Editor
Held to three runs or less in five of six Southeastern Conference games, Paul Mainieri put his team’s offensive frustrations into terms Tiger football fans — a group not totally unaccustomed to such scoring struggles — could understand.
“We outhit the best hitting team in the SEC, but you don’t win by getting hits, you win by getting runs,” Mainieri said. “It’s like an offense being strong between the 20’s but not punching it in. It doesn’t do you any good getting a bunch of yards if you can’t score points. In baseball, it doesn’t do you any good getting a bunch of hits if you can’t score any runs.”
The continued efforts to re-ignite the offense continues Tuesday night as LSU comes home to (16-7) host in-state rival Tulane (17-7) at Alex box Stadium before hitting the road again for a weekend series at SEC West cellar dweller Auburn.
Currently sitting at 2-4 in league play after losing two of three at Texas A&M, LSU has mustered just 15 runs in those contests. Six of said runs came in the eight-inning rally against Alabama, meaning the Tigers scored just nine runs in the other 52 innings combined.
Those numbers, on the surface, appear anemic. A deeper look, however, paints a picture of wasted opportunities.
LSU is averaging 8.8 hits per game as a team and, as Mainieri mentioned, actually outhit the top-ranked Aggies this past weekend.
That productivity has been for naught as the Tigers have left 55 men on base over the course of those six games, a staggering average of 9.2 stranded runners per game.
“If you weren’t getting hit and you weren’t getting on base, you’d never have the opportunity to drive runs in,” LSU hitting coach Andy Cannizaro said. “Ultimately, it comes down to guys getting into the box and picking up the big hit.”
The second-year assistant preached patience to some degree, pointing to a young lineup that, aside from center fielder Jake Fraley, is experiencing the rigors of SEC play for the first time.
There’s situational hitting situations Cannizaro would like his team to execute better in — he repeatedly mentioned the need to create more opportunities with men on third base and less than two outs — but, for the most part, clutch hitting is a matter of comfort and execution, pure and simple.
“There’s nobody that wants to drive in those runs more than our guys do,” Cannizaro said. “And we’ll become better hitters in those situations the more times we do it. I have all the confidence in the world that we’re going to start driving those runs in, and ultimately we’ll start winning those close ball games.”
LSU’s biggest struggle has been stringing together enough hits to plate runners without the luxury of an extra-base hit.
Of LSU’s 53 hits against SEC pitching, all but eight have been singles. Couple that with only getting consecutive runners on base seven times in the entirety of the Texas A&M series, and it doesn’t add up to much in the way of offensive production.
“When you don’t get extra-base hits, it makes you susceptible to bad fortune,” Mainieri said. “You can hit balls right at people. You need to get sometimes three hits to score a run. You may not be swinging the bats badly.”
Hitting is contagious for better or worse, and what LSU must now contend with is the natural inclination toward self-pity that comes as a manifestation of repeated frustration.
Cannizaro and Mainieri can preach persistence at the plate and work to instill a sense of urgency with 24 SEC games remaining, but the onus remains on the players to carry that message into the batter’s box.
“It gets frustrating at times, but we’re going to keep plugging on and get better every game as we play,” Greg Deichmann said. “We got guys on base and we got them in scoring position, it’s just a matter of executing and doing the little things right and getting those timely hits.”
NEWS AND NOTES
– Paul Mainieri said freshman Cole McKay will make his second consecutive midweek start, and even left the door open to the big Texas working beyond the two innings he fired against Louisiana-Lafayette: “If he pitches well enough, he’ll extend a little bit more. I’m not really sure how far though.”
– Shortstop Kramer Robertson, sporting a splint on his dislocated right pinkie finger, said he’ll be able to play against Tulane. “It’s pretty swollen and sore, but I’ll be ok. Just have to tape it up.”
– Third baseman O’Neal Lochridge’s back is “feeling better” as he continues to work with LSU’s trainer, Mainieri said, but the freshman is not yet ready to go through a full workout yet. Expect Deichmann to remain at the hot corner in the interim.
– The MRI on right-hander Riley Smith’s shoulder “came back very good,” Mainieri said, but remains on hold until he meets with the doctor, who Mainieri said wasn’t scheduled to return to Baton Rouge until Monday night.
– Mainieri said right-handed reliever Collin Strall is fully healthy and will be available to pitch against Tulane on Tuesday.