LSU still looking for ideal starting nine

Jonathan Mailhes

Apparently, LSU baseball coach Paul Maineri wasn’t kidding when he said he would be tinkering with the lineup in the first few games of the 2020 season.

So far, he’s had a different starting lineup in all eight games of the Tigers’ 5-3 start. And after the first two weeks, it doesn’t seem like there is a settled starting nine and one not likely in the near future.

The only constants so far have been Daniel Cabrera in the outfield and Cade Beloso at first base. Before the season Saul Garza was thought to be one of those stalwarts in the lineup at catcher, but the emergence of freshman Alex Milazzo has set the best laid plans of Mainieiri awry.

Milazzo and his golden arm behind the plate has hardly been a secret, but it has proven to be an invaluable asset. On Saturday against Eastern Kentucky, Milazzo picked off a runner at second and threw out a runner trying to steal second before he got halfway to the bag.

But what’s been a pleasant surprise for LSU is his production at the plate. Milazzo is 5 for 18 (.278) with a double and four RBIs while getting five starts. His production at and behind the plate have made him a near irreplaceable part of the lineup. It’s unreasonable to expect him to catch every game as a freshman, but at the moment it appears as if he has supplanted Garza as the primary catcher.

But Garza isn’t going anywhere. Milazzo’s emergence has only meant that Mainieiri has a favorite player to pick as his designated hitter. Garza is 7 for 27 (.259), leads the team with nine RBIs and is the only Tiger to hit multiple home runs.

Outside of some experimentation, Zack Mathis has more or less emerged as the starting third baseman. Mathis started off with some shaky defense, but as of late he has flashed some serious leather at the hot corner. He’s been producing at the plate, recording 11 hits in 28 trips (.419).

The question marks are at, well, pretty much everywhere else.

Manieri liked having second baseman Cade Doughty’s bat in the lineup, but he’s gone cold since hitting a home run in his first trip to the plate and has been less than rock solid in the field.

In Saturday’s game against EKU, Doughty was pulled after committing two errors in three innings. Gavin Dugas made the most sense as a replacement, but on Sunday he was hit in the head with a pitch and had to come out of the game, showing signs of concussion symptoms.

Hal Hughes’ defense was thought to be enough to net him the starting job at shortstop provided his bat is serviceable, but that hasn’t happened. Collier Cranford is likely next in line for the six hole, but has only started two games thus far and yet to record a hit in eight at-bats.

While Cabrera is the starting right fielder, four players have gotten multiple starts in the outfield. Bianco leads that troupe with five starts, but he along with Wes Toups and Giovanni DiGiacomo only have one hit to their credit so far.

Maurice Hampton Jr. is the only outfielder outside of Cabrera to record multiple hits, going 4 for 18 (.222) across seven games.

Time to experiment is quickly running out. This week the Tigers will host Louisiana Tech and then take to Houston to play in what essentially the baseball version of the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.

On Friday they play Texas, Baylor on Saturday, and Oklahoma on Sunday. In two weeks, SEC play begins with a road series against Ole Miss. The road from there on out is tough. LSU can’t afford to make it harder by continuing to tinker.

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