Commodores lead the nation in strikeouts per nine innings
By JAMES MORAN
Tiger Rag Associate Editor
Paul Mainieri’s young lineup has shown signs of starting to find some answers offensively over the course of LSU’s modest three-game winning streak.
The next test will prove infinitely more demanding.
Having spent back-to-back weekends on the road, LSU (19-9, 4-5 SEC) comes home to host second-ranked Vanderbilt (24-5, 6-3 SEC) in a heavyweight showdown scheduled to begin Thursday night at Alex Box Stadium.
“Players come to LSU because one day they want to play in the Major Leagues,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “This is the caliber of arms you face in the Major Leagues, so if they aspire to play at that level, they have to enjoy and embrace the challenge.
“They’re going to face velocity this weekend. There’s no doubt about it.”
The Commodores’ collection on power arms ranks on par with anyone in the nation. Vanderbilt pitching leads the nation at 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings and places second in the SEC and top-20 nationally in terms of ERA (2.27), WHIP (1.15) and strikeouts-per-walk (3.04).
Jordan Sheffield (4-1. 2.27 ERA) and Kyle Wright (4-1, 1.60 ERA), Vanderbilt’s Thursday and Friday night starters, feature fastballs in the mid-to-upper 90s with swing-and-miss breaking balls. The pair has fanned 100 batters in 77.1 combined innings of work.
It creates an interesting matchup with an LSU team that’s struck out just 118 times this season, far and away the least in the SEC. Hitting coach Andy Cannizaro says the key to attacking a staff with plus stuff is actually a bit counterintuitive.
“You become aggressive on the fastball and you hunt the velocity,” Cannizaro said. “You have an understanding that, just because they throw hard, doesn’t mean they’re all going to be great pitchers. You have to sell out to hitting the fastball. Do your best to see the secondary stuff early and have an understanding they struggle to throw their sliders and curveballs for strikes.”
Shortstop Kramer Robertson pointed out it’s not LSU’s first go-round with a hard-throwing staff this young season.
All three of Texas A&M’s starters featured fastballs in the low-to-mid 90s, and Robertson maintains the experience from that weekend removes some of the trepidation from this weekend’s matchup.
“Hunt the fastball,” Robertson said. “That’s the only thing you can do against a guy that’s throwing that hard. Don’t try to muscle up and get bigger because that’s not a recipe for success. You’ve got to be short, quick to it, and get the fastball low in the zone.”
Greg Deichmann added: “We’re going to try to hunt that fastball and lay off the breaking stuff.”
NEWS AND NOTES
– Due to the double header at Auburn, Mainieri will once again start Jared Poche’ in a series opener on four-day’s rest. Here’s the LSU rotation:
Thursday: Jared Poche’
Friday: Alex Lange
Saturday: John Valek III
– Vanderbilt leads the SEC in runs scored despite being pedestrian in terms of both batting average (No. 9) and total bases (No. 7). How? The Commodores lead the league in stolen bases — as well as attempts and times thrown out — sacrifice flies and sacrifice bunts.
– Left-hander Jake Latz threw a simulated game prior to Wednesday’s practice, the first time he’s faced live hitters for the first time since offseason elbow surgery. Mainieri, pitching coach Alan Dunn and the hitters that faced him all offered impressive reviews. Latz said afterward he left the mound feeling healthy, and provided he feels the same tomorrow, Mainieri said he’ll pitch in next Wednesday’s midweek game against Grambling. Expect to see a bigger story on Latz’s potential return some time early next week.