LSU’s pre-series practice came to an abrupt halt on Thursday afternoon when a migrating hive of bees swept across Alex Box Stadium before laying siege to the area around home plate.
Everyone was able to scatter off the field without any serious incident, which in itself is sort of miraculous considering that LSU’s injury-plagued season seemed to be taking a turn for the biblical.
Of course that doesn’t mean there’s still not some bad news to pass along.
LSU infielder Josh Smith suffered a minor setback on Monday that’ll keep him from returning to the lineup this weekend as LSU hosts Tennessee for a three-game series set to begin on Friday night, LSU coach Paul Mainieri announced.
“Josh Smith will not be able to play this weekend,” Mainieri said. “He had a setback on Monday. Man, everything was just starting to move in the right direction. He felt great over at College Station.
Smith hasn’t playing since opening weekend after being diagnosed with a stress reaction in his vertebrate, but he appeared on track to return against the Volunteers as his workouts intensified in recent weeks.
The sophomore took 50 ground balls and 50 swings in his most intense work yet on Monday. He went inside to get a drink before taking some live balls in the field and his back tightened up. LSU sent Smith for an MRI to ensure the stress reaction hadn’t returned or worsened into a fracture.
“I was fearing the worst to be honest of you,” Mainieri said.
Perhaps LSU’s luck is beginning to turn. For the second time this week, the scan came back with better news than expected.
Mainieri rushed back toward the clubhouse as soon as LSU trainer Cory Couture emerged from the dugout prior to practice. Couture informed him that the MRI had come back clean, meaning the vertebrate is completely healed, and Smith simply had a back spasm.
“We just think it’s a weakness in the muscles, and he had a spasm because they’re not in shape yet,” Mainieri said. “The long-term forecast is really good, but we weren’t able to get him any living pitching and today his back is still sore. But mentally it’s good to know there’s nothing structurally wrong.
“So that’s the bad news. Well good and bad news, I guess.”
There’s no timetable for Smith to return to the lineup, but given the look of concern on Mainieri’s face before speaking to Couture, it’s safe to say the news could’ve turned out to be far worse.
OTHER INJURY UPDATES
Brandt Broussard had the splint taken off his broken left thumb and has begun doing exercises to test the mobility of the digit.
“The bone is fine,” Mainieri said. “They just have to make sure all the soft tissue around it is strong enough for him to resume baseball activities.”
If all goes well, the plan is for Broussard to resume baseball activity sometime early next week. He’s been able to run and throw — he’s often in right field tossing balls back to Eric Walker of all people — but obviously he’s yet to field or grip a bat.
“Does that mean he can be back next weekend?” Mainieri began. “I couldn’t tell you right now, but I think we’re well on the road to recovery there.”
Broussard, LSU’s leading hitter (.363), suffered the injury when he got hit by a pitch against Vanderbilt on March 24. The diagnosis came with a 3-to-5 week timetable for him to recover.
Staying on the right side of the infield, Bryce Jordan isn’t expected to be on the active roster for this weekend. He was diagnosed with a bone bruise on Monday that’s expected to keep him out of the lineup for a week or so.
Freshman right-hander Nick Storz was supposed to resume throwing this week but didn’t due to an illness that forced LSU to send him home from practice.
It’s another week lost in a seemingly endless injury saga for the promising flamethrower, but LSU still hasn’t ruled out him playing a role at some time this season.
“I’m still not giving up hope that he’s going to back and help us before the year is over,” Mainieri said. “But I know he’s frustrated. Just seems like it’s two steps forward and one step back. It’d be frustrating for any kid.”
END IN SIGHT?
LSU is 2-2 in its past four games, which is more than anything a testament to how strong the pitching staff has been of late.
The Tigers have scored in just four of the previous 35 innings — once in each of the four games, as it works out — and while LSU scored multiple times in three of those four innings, that’s a tough way to try to win ballgames.
Cold weather in College Station and a stiff wind on Tuesday night made for pitcher-friendly conditions, not to mention the three important bats that’re currently sidelined with injury, but LSU’s players remain adamant that this makeshift lineup isn’t that far away from clicking.
“I really do,” infielder/closer Austin Bain said. “Guys are stepping up and have gained experience. I’m looking forward to seeing how this lineup plays out in this next half of the season. I do think that we’re right around the corner. We’re right there.”
Bain pointed to a lack of clutch hitting and situational execution as root causes for the slump. That is supported to some extend by the fact that LSU ranks fifth in the SEC in batting average (.289) but is tied for 12th in runs scored.
The dual-threat senior has been one of LSU’s better hitters with runners in scoring position. Part of his success, apparently, is to sing himself a little some in the on-deck circle before a crucial at-bat to get in a calm state of mind.
“Depending on the day I might get a little Selena Gomez in or something like that,” Bain reluctantly revealed. “I know Blake Dean used to sing Scooby Doo, so I’ve used that one once or twice. It just depends.”
Of course the team tied with LSU for second-to-last in scoring is none other than Tennessee, so more low-scoring affairs could be on tap at the Box this weekend.