The days of Daniel Cabrera sitting against a soft-tossing lefty in non-conference games seem like they were years ago, not mere months.
Now it takes something truly special to keep Cabrera’s name out of the cleanup spot he’s grabbed hold of and not let go.
The freshman wasn’t in the starting lineup Sunday as LSU coach Mainieri wanted Bryce Jordan to get an at-bat on Senior Day, a move Cabrera supported when Mainieri approached him to explain his plan. He came off the bench to drive in four runs with an opposite-field homer and a double.
That big fly to left in the fifth inning is particularly emblematic of how far Cabrera has come as a hitter.
Alabama brought in lefty Dylan Duarte to face Cabrera with a runner on first and two outs. Duarte peppered the outside part of the plate with breaking balls, Cabrera’s Achilles heel earlier this season, but instead of trying to pull the ball, he went the other way and drove a slider into the left field seats.
“I didn’t think he was going to throw in,” Cabrera said. “If he did, I was just going to try to foul it off. I was looking for something middle-away the whole at-bat. Lefty-lefty, not many lefties can pound in.”
The four-RBI afternoon is just the latest outburst in what’s been a scorching-hot homestand for Cabrera. He’s driven in at least one run in each of the past seven games, hitting an unconscious .636 (14-for-22) with two home runs and 13 RBI during that stretch.
Those efforts helped Cabrera nab SEC Freshman of the Week honors, the league office announced Monday. He hit .769 in four games with two home runs and 10 RBI.
Cabrera was one of LSU’s more talented hitters from the day he stepped on campus, as evidenced by his torrid showing in fall scrimmages. Expectations were sky high for him to be the next uber-rookie to hit the ground running, but it took some time.
And now that he’s bringing a mature approach to the plate and begins each at-bat with a gameplan, he’s become the powerful run producer LSU needs him to be.
“He’s come so far as a hitter,” Mainieri said. “Earlier this year he was being platooned, but he kept working and working at hitting the ball the other way. Man, what a hitter he’s turning into. He’s becoming one of the more feared hitters in the SEC.
“I shudder to think what he might become.”
Nick Storz wasn’t on the active roster for the Alabama series. The reason why became apparent Sunday.
The freshman right-hander aggravated his shoulder while playing long toss on Thursday, one day after making his return to action with a two-inning appearance against McNeese State.
Mainieri didn’t speculate on a timetable for Storz to begin throwing again, but with the SEC Tournament set to begin next week in Hoover, it’s increasingly unlikely he’ll make an impact for LSU this season.
That’s just part of the latest rash of injuries to hit LSU. AJ Labas had to be scratched from his start Sunday due to shoulder soreness, and Nick Bush, who made the start in his place, was questionable himself due to his own minor injury.
“Thank God Bush pitched today,” Mainieri exhaled after running through the latest injury report. “There’s an outside chance Labas will be able to pitch next weekend. We’ll see.”
As of Sunday evening, the coach had virtually no idea who’ll start against Northwestern State on Tuesday night in a game LSU needs to avoid falling any further in the RPI.
“I’m open to suggestions,” the coach joked to a group of reporters. “Not unless any of you have any eligibility left. If you do, you got it.”
LSU announced Monday that sophomore right-hander Matthew Beck would get the start with LSU likely piecing the game together with all its available arms from there.
SO YOU’RE SAYING THERE’S A CHANCE?
Realistically speaking, LSU probably cost itself a chance on getting a bye in the SEC Tournament by falling to sweep Alabama.
Mathematically speaking, here’s at least one of the scenarios in which LSU could avoid playing in the single-elimination first round in Hoover:
- LSU sweeps Auburn on the road.
- Either Ole Miss (playing at Alabama) or Georgia (hosting Arkansas) gets swept.
- South Carolina loses its series at Texas A&M.
That scenario would require LSU to double its season total of road wins and have some hot teams in front of them suddenly cool off, but hey, anything can happen.
LSU (BACK) IN A POLL
LSU found its way back into one of the four major polls, checking in at No. 28 in Collegiate Baseball Newspaper’s latest set of rankings.
The Tigers remain unranked in all three of the other polls for a fourth consecutive week. There wasn’t much movement in terms of RPI either coming off a 3-1 week at home.
D1Baseball NR (NR)
Baseball America NR (NR)
Perfect Game NR (NR)
Collegiate Baseball 28 (NR)