By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
Maybe the triumphant return of Johnny Wholestaff and a lineup loaded with right-handed reserves was the cure to what has ailed LSU during in-state midweek games this season.
Then again, perhaps it had more to do with taking out the frustration of losing five times in seven games against a Grambling team that came in with a record of 9-18 and ranks No. 276 in RPI out of 299 Division I teams.
Either way, LSU shook off a sloppy start and took care of Louisiana’s other crew of Tigers in blowout fashion, 13-2, on a downright gorgeous evening at Alex Box Stadium Tuesday. LSU pounded out 15 hits while 11 pitchers combined to limit Grambling to six hits and one earned run.
“Hopefully the guys got a little bit of confidence going,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said, “and that’ll help us as we get ready for Arkansas.”
Zach Watson and Kramer Robertson each belted two-run home runs as LSU batted around and broke the game open during a seven-run sixth inning. Watson finished 3-for-3 and cam up a double short of hitting for the cycle. Robertson meanwhile has now homered in three consecutive games since leaving the yard only once in the first 27 games of the season.
It became apparent that one had been there before while the other hadn’t. Watson, the true freshman, stood at the plate and admired his blast. Robertson, LSU’s senior leader, took it upon himself to show the rookie how one properly touches them all.
“He told me he hit a home run so he could show Zach Watson how to drop his bat and run instead of standing there and watching it,” Mainieri said. “I hated to spoil the moment for Zach, but they’ve got to learn that when they hit one, you have to drop the bat and run. We don’t want to show anybody up.”
“I saw Watson hit it and kind of celebrate a little bit,” Robertson smiled. “When I got mine, I just put my head down and run. Sometimes it’s ok to stand there and admire it, but on a night like tonight, just hit it, put your head down and run. A lesson for the freshman that the senior was able to teach him.”
LSU found itself in an early hole thanks to some unsightly self-inflicted wounds. Grambling got a leadoff infield single against Todd Peterson, who promptly threw away a pickoff attempt to move the runner to third base.
A throwing error charged to Chris Reid brought home the game’s first run. Following a walk, Johan Mojica singled into left field to put the Tigers in an unlikely 2-0 hole before they even came to bat.
Robertson singled home Cole Freeman in the bottom of the inning to cut the deficit in half. Then, after LSU left the bases loaded in the second, Jake Slaughter singled home the tying run in the third. Reid followed with a sac fly to put LSU ahead 3-2. Watson tripled to right field to lead off the home fourth inning and scored on a sacrifice fly to left from Freeman one at-bat later.
The parade of relievers who followed Peterson kept Grambling at bay. Caleb Gilbert, Russell Reynolds, Will Reese, Austin Bain and Nick Bush each fired a scoreless frame.
Zack Hess, formerly LSU’s midweek starter, entered the game in the seventh inning for his debut as a full-time reliever. He induced two soft ground balls and picked up a swinging strikeout to complete a 1-2-3 inning in what’s easily the best of his three career relief outings. Matt Beck, Hunter Kiel, Blair Frederick and Collin Strall divvied up the final six outs of the game with relatively little drama.
“Most of the guys came in and did a pretty good job,” Mainieri summarized.
Mainieri emptied his bench as the game got out of hand. Bryce Adams launched his second home run of the season, a pinch hit two-run shot, in the seventh inning to further pad the lead. The Tigers now head back out on the road for a three-game series at Arkansas set to begin Friday.
-Nick Coomes was unavailable after receiving treatment on the hip that’s bothered him at times this season, Mainieri said. As a result, Jordan Romero, whose ailing shoulder is feeling better of late, got the call at catcher and went 2-for-4 with two runs scored at the plate.
-Antoine Duplantis and Josh Smith were also given planned nights off, Mainieri explained, though he brought Smith into the game in the sixth inning as a pinch runner because the score remained tight. Smith came around to score and drove in another run with a sacrifice fly later in the inning.