By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
Paul Mainieri’s affinity for early-season tinkering has been well documented over his decade at the helm in Baton Rouge.
His latest experiment — a “dramatic move,” described in his own words — comes in the final weekend prior to the start of Southeastern Conference play.
Mainieri announced Thursday that he’s shuffling his outfield heading into LSU’s weekend series against Wichita State. Antoine Duplantis will move to left field while the duo of Brennan Breaux and Zach Watson get a chance in center field.
“I don’t know it it’s going to be a permanent move, but it’s basically our last pre-conference weekend to do some experimenting,” Mainieri said. “The rationale for that is I hold center field to a very high level of expectation.”
Outfield defense and center field in particular have been a constant strength for LSU in recent years. The three most recent Tigers to patrol center at Alex Box Stadium were Jake Fraley, Andrew Stevenson and Mikie Mahtook.
The coach made specific mention of a ball Duplantis wasn’t able to track down in the first inning of Wednesday’s 5-4 loss at McNeese State, LSU’s third defeat in four games. Duplantis wasn’t able to haul in Matt Gallier’s two-out double that hit off the wall in dead center field.
Breaux, a natural center fielder, has appeared in 11 games this season with six starts — all in left field. Watson made his only career start in center field against Nicholls State on Feb. 28 and has been as a defensive replacement in lopsided games.
“Brennan’s really never had a shot out there,” Mainieri said. “Last year Fraley played center field all the time and this year Antoine has. I’m also very high on Zach Watson. I think he’s an electric player and the only way we can find out if he’s ready to handle SEC-caliber competition is to throw him out there.”
Mainieri reiterated that Duplantis remains an everyday player who will hit near the top of the lineup. That won’t change regardless of which outfield spot he occupies.
“He’s going to be in there,” Mainieri said. “It could just be a short-term experiment. We could end up flip-flopping him right back into center field after a few games. I’m just not sure yet.”
That leaves Beau Jordan as the odd man out of the shuffle. With Duplantis and Greg Deichmann, two ‘everyday players,’ at the corners, he’s now relegated to a crowded group of right-handed bats who can either come off the bench of serve as a designated hitter.
“That puts Beau Jordan in the mix of having to wait his turn to get back in there now,” Mainieri said bluntly.
NEWS AND NOTES
– LSU will continue to roll with its “regular rotation” this weekend, Mainieri said. Probably starters for the weekend are listed below.
– Josh Smith’s hand, hit by a pitch Wednesday night, was examined further on Thursday. While the hand remains a bit swollen, “it’s pretty obvious there’s not a fracture there,” Mainieri said. Smith remained the game and got hits in his final two at-bats.
– Sophomore right-hander Cole McKay continues to rehab from arm surgery underwent in January, Mainieri announced. The procedure was relatively minor compared to Tommy John surgeries underwent necessary for Doug Norman and Alden Cartwright. “There was a period of time that he couldn’t throw at all,” the coach said, “so he’s in the midst of his rehab. So we’re monitoring it and we’ll see what his availability is.”
LSU – Jr. RHP Alex Lange (2-1, 4.97 ERA, 12.2 IP, 5 BB, 20 SO))
WSU – Sr. RHP Willie Schwanke (2-1, 2.08 ERA, 17.1 IP, 8 BB, 9 SO)
LSU – Sr. LHP Jared Poche’ (3-0, 0.00 ERA, 22 IP, 2 BB, 15 SO)
WSU – Jr. LHP Cody Tyler (2-1, 3.86 ERA, 11.2 IP, 5 BB, 14 SO)
LSU – Fr. RHP Eric Walker (1-0, 3.00 ERA, 15.0 IP, 3 BB, 19 SO)
WSU – Sr. RHP Zach Lewis (0-0, 3.00 ERA, 9.0 IP, 7 BB, 6 SO)
Friday, March 10 – 7 p.m. CT
Saturday, March 11 – 1 p.m. CT
Sunday, March 12 – 2 p.m. CT
Alex Box Stadium, Skip Bertman Field in Baton Rouge, La.
LSU – No. 6 by Collegiate Baseball; No. 6 by Baseball America; No. 7 by D1 Baseball; No. 7 by USA Today
WSU – unranked
LSU Sports Radio Network; in Baton Rouge on WDGL 98.1 FM
Radio broadcast and live stats for all LSU baseball games are available at www.LSUsports.net
SEC Network +, accessible at WatchESPN.com and the Watch ESPN app
LSU leads the all-time series with Wichita State, 6-4, and Friday’s game marks the first meeting between the schools since the opening round of the 1996 College World Series, when the Tigers posted a 9-8 win over the Shockers. LSU’s first two national championship game wins at the College World Series in 1991 and 1993 both came over Wichita State by scores of 6-3 and 8-0, respectively. This weekend’s series marks the Shockers’ second visit to Baton Rouge – Wichita State last played at LSU in 1987, and the Tigers posted a three-game sweep in the original Alex Box Stadium.