By JAMES MORAN
Tiger Rag Associate Editor
Paul Mainieri and his players attributed Tuesday’s unsightly 7-1 drubbing at the hands of Tulane to a failure to set the tone in a mistake-fueled first two innings.
Having lost three of the last four games, Mainieri hands the ball to ace Alex Lange in hopes of getting LSU off to a better start as they head to the Plains to take on SEC West rival Auburn.
“Alex is the guy with the most overpowering stuff and the chance to get us off to a good start,” Mainieri said. “He’s a true ace. I think it’s time for him to be the Friday night guy.”
Lange would have started the series opener against Texas A&M last weekend were it not for the rainout that pushed him back a day during the Alabama series. He’ll have a full week’s rest before taking the mound Friday night.
While the sophomore downplayed his own role as a stopper of losing streaks, he’s done some of his best work when taking the ball following an LSU loss. In five such career starts, Lange has posted a 3-0 record and pitched to a 2.29 ERA. More importantly, his Tigers won all five games.
“If we can come out Friday and get a W, it sets the tone for the entire weekend,” Lange said. “I’m just going to go out there, pound the strike zone early and try to go deep into the game to save the bullpen as much as possible.”
Having a bona fide ace on the mound helps, but LSU will still need better play from its position players — both at the plate and in the field — to avoid losing a third consecutive SEC series.
The Tiger offense has mustered just six runs in its last four games and has scored more than three runs in just one of six league contests.
Shortstop Kramer Robertson, who at this point is effectively the team’s leader, said the turnaround effort began during Wednesday’s workout and will continue on through practice once the team bus arrives in Auburn Thursday night.
“Just like any other day,” Robertson said of the energy Wednesday. “We came out and really needed to have a good one, but we didn’t stress. We weren’t uptight. It wasn’t a funeral. We were still joking around and having fun. That’s what you have to do to be successful.”
Aside from the team’s energy, there likely change coming lineup wise is at third base with O’Neal Lochridge continuing to miss time with his back injury.
Mainieri said “something has to be done” in light of Greg Deichmann’s defensive struggles at the hot corner, but decided to hold off on making any decision until the team’s practice in Auburn tonight.
Whatever infield alignment Mainieri decides to go with, LSU’s defenders will need to be mindful of the speed of Auburn leadoff hitter Anfernee Grier. Both he and No. 2 hitter Joshua Palacios over hitting over .400 this season and the pair has combined to swipe 24 bases in 30 tried.
Grier put on a show when the two teams met at Alex Box Stadium last season. Despite going 0-for-5 in the series finale, the speedy outfielder finished the weekend 5-for-14 with three doubles, one triple and three RBI.
“You’ve got to have the clock in your head,” Robertson said. “We always say we want to get it to first base in 4.2 seconds. With him, it might even need to be quicker than that.”
NEWS & NOTES
– Left-hander Jake Latz is making the trip and will throw a bullpen session in front of Mainieri and Alan Dunn before Saturday’s game. If things go well, Mainieri said the plan if for Latz to face live hitters sometime next week. If that goes well, he could pitch in one of LSU’s two midweek games the following week against either McNeese State or Grambling. “We’re close enough to him getting into the games that I think it’s important that he be with us this weekend and be able to work with the pitching coach under the supervision of the trainer with a real catcher,” Mainieri said. “We can control how many pitches he throws and what intensity and those kind of things.”
– Starting rotation for the weekend:
Friday: Alex Lange
Saturday: Jared Poche’
Sunday: John Valek III
– LSU players not making the trip: O’Neal Lochridge, Collin Strall, Riley Smith, Hunter Devall, Bryce Adams, Cody Ducote and Nick Bush.