The plate in Brandt Broussard’s surgically-repaired thumb will keep him using Chris Reid’s broken-in glove for the rest of the season, but the speedy second baseman may finally be starting to feel like his old self at the plate again.
LSU coach Paul Mainieri acknowledged that Broussard rushed back from his broken thumb because LSU needed him, but he hasn’t been the offensive force that he was prior to the injury.
“The kid is so courageous,” Mainieri said. “Probably came back too soon, but we needed him and he was willing to do it. We knew he couldn’t hurt himself any more, but he didn’t have his physical strength and he hadn’t swung a bat in three weeks.”
Mainieri has started to see Broussard’s timing and bat speed start to return in practice this week whenever his final exam schedule has permitted him to participate. He’s starting to look “normal” again, the coach said, which means hitting hard line drives to all fields.
Broussard, despite his gnarly-looking digit, affirmed his coach’s assessment. The thumb is still sore when he tries to bend it in the middle and he’s got a plate and two screws where the break occurred, but the bigger problem was the three weeks away from live pitching.
Prior to getting hit by a pitch against Vanderbilt, Broussard was LSU’s leading hitter and a key cog at the top of the order. Broussard is just 5-for-30 (.167) since returning to the lineup on April 18, dropping his batting average from .363 to .291.
“The timing was definitely off,” Broussard said. “The most difficult thing was picking up sliders that people have. Just not seeing it for a couple weeks, it’s tough. But I feel in BP lately like the ball is coming off a bit harder than when I first came back. I’m getting my timing back and starting to feel a lot better.”
Broussard added that he didn’t have his normal bat speed when he first returned, which necessitated him starting his swing earlier to catch up. That, in essence, explains why he’s chasing more sliders that break out of the zone.
“I was trying to cheat to stuff, and that was making me even more difficult on the sliders,” Broussard said. “But the past couple days, just hitting off the machine, I feel like I have more bat speed than when I first came back.”
LSU could certainly use a more effective Broussard as it hosts SEC West-leading Arkansas this weekend for a three-game series set to begin on Friday night at Alex Box Stadium.
Plenty has been written about LSU’s struggles away from Alex Box Stadium, and rightly so, but the Tigers begin an eight-game homestand against a club that’s quietly had its own troubles away from home.
Arkansas, though No. 5 in RPI, is just 4-9 on the road and 5-10 overall in games not played at Baum Stadium. LSU meanwhile returns home, where it is 23-6 this season.
A reporter brought the disparity to Mainieri’s attention, though the coach wasn’t about to disparage Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn, a man he greatly respects, or his program.
“We’ve noticed that,” Mainieri said. “You’re trying to reel me into saying something for a bulletin board. I’m not going to do it.”
LSU has dominated the recent series history against one of the other perennial SEC West powers. The Tigers won three out of four meetings last season, including the SEC Tournament Championship Game, and have taken 12 of the last 13 regular-season series including six in a row.
“There’s something about when we play Arkansas, our kids play very loose and confident,” Mainieri said. “They bring out the best in us, and they have the whole time that I’ve been here.”
That string of success includes a sweep the last time the Hogs came to Alex Box Stadium in 2016 highlighted by the famed “Rally Possum” comeback game.
Arkansas ace Blaine Knight, who’ll start on Friday night, was on the mound that night when the varmint invaded left field before a come-from-behind victory in extra innings.
Could history repeat itself? Believe it or not, Mainieri said he nearly ran over a possum when driving home on Highland Road earlier this week.
“I hope we don’t have to rely on that,” the coach smiled.
CINCO DE FRANQUES
LSU will commemorate long-time baseball sports information director Bill Franques’ 30th year on the job Saturday night.
Mainieri announced that May 5 would be Bill Franques Day at the Box way back at the First Pitch Banquet in February. Tickets for the game will have Franques’ face on them, which the sports information staff managed to keep off his desk when he was proof reading all the tickets.
Most regulars at the new or old Box would recognize Franques as the distinguished voice of the stadium in his duties as public address announcer. He also serves as the color commentator on the radio broadcast for LSU road games and is generally one of the classier individuals you’ll meet in this business.