Anyone who’s been around the program long enough to remember the hitting slumps of years past knew what it meant when Paul Mainieri brought his glove to practice on Wednesday afternoon.
LSU was in for an installment of “Batting Practice from Hell.”
What’s that you ask? Well the 60-year-old coach stands about 40 feet from home plate and throws batting practice as hard as he can. Hitters say he also mixed in a surprising-nasty slider and a changeup, which obviously aren’t part of a normal batting practice.
“His slider is pretty dirty, and the changeup will get you, too,” Zach Watson said. “BP is usually just fastballs. You’d be surprised if you got in that box and Coach was throwing sliders at you. It’s tough to see from 40 feet away, and the amount of break his ball has on it is stupid.”
That’s not all Mainieri hurls. He also yells out runner-in-scoring-position situations and some taunts between at-bats.
“I kind of beat them down a little bit in hopes that they would rally together as a group, even if their feelings toward me were nasty,” Mainieri explained. “It might group them together and get them to start pulling for each other and build some confidence. So it was kind of them against me yesterday, and I was attacking them mentally and throwing the ball as hard as I could.”
There was a method to his madness. LSU had managed just one run over the course of successive losses to Vanderbilt and UL-Lafayette as hitters one through nine appeared to lose their nerve and their approach in key situations with the game on the line.
Mainieri laid out a challenge to his team in the basest terms, and they responded just the way he’d hoped.
A clutch two-out single from Jake Slaughter got LSU on the board early and the Tigers scored seven times with two outs in the seventh inning en route to a resounding 10-1 rout of Mississippi State in a series opener on Thursday night.
“They hit great against me,” the coach smiled. “It was like that seventh inning great. Guys were coming up and I’d say ‘bases loaded with two outs, you can’t hit me.’ Then I’d fire one in there and boom, they’d hit a missile in the gap. And the more they did it the more they got fired up. That’s what we saw tonight. I’m not taking credit for it, but that’s the makeup that you’ve got to have to be able to come through in clutch situations.”
Antoine Duplantis, who made the last out in Tuesday night’s loss against UL-Lafayette, chased Bulldog ace Konnor Pilkington from the game with an RBI triple to center as that seventh inning kicked into gear. The junior joked LSU may need “Batting Practice from Hell” on a regular basis.
Mainieri is game for that physically. He boasted that his arm is good, and even after Wednesday’s intense throwing session, he said it remained the only part of his 60-year-old body that didn’t hurt.
However, the coach wants Thursday’s performance to be a turning point for the team to begin developing that competitive zeal and inner belief organically going forward.
“Hopefully it’ll carry over and I won’t have to do it every day with them,” Mainieri said. “Baseball, you’ve got to be ready every day. You don’t have the luxury of a day-before practice before every game, so they’ve got to maintain that intensity each and every day.”