Tiger cleanup men 1-for-22 in last five games
By JAMES MORAN
Tiger Rag Associate Editor
Just about everyone in the LSU lineup has swung the bat well as the club has taken four of their past five Southeastern Conference games.
Well, everybody except whoever finds themselves penciled into the cleanup spot on any given day.
Dating back to the first game of the Vanderbilt series, a revolving door of players who have batted fourth have gone a combined 1-for-22. Coach Paul Mainieri reserved judgment on committing to a cleanup man heading into this weekend’s series at Missouri.
“I’m not sure yet what we’re going to do,” Mainieri said Thursday before departing for the team flight to Columbia. “It will, first of all, depend on who is in the lineup, and then how the pieces of the puzzle fit together. I’m going to reserve judgement on that until tomorrow.”
During the past five games, Mainieri has cycled through Beau Jordan (twice), Jordan Romero, Brody Wofford and Kramer Robertson in the cleanup spot to no avail.
The lone hit from the No. 4 hole came courtesy of Cody Ducote’s pinch hit single in the eighth inning of the 13-4 blowout in the Vanderbilt series opener. Since then, there’s been 17 official at-bats with nothing to show for them.
“That’s just baseball,” Jordan said of the statistic. “Stats are funny, but sometimes you’re not always going to get the job done. It’s just weird.”
He continued: “I wouldn’t call that a curse. Coach expects a lot from the four hole, and whoever he puts there, he expects to drive in the runs. Right now he’s having trouble finding that guy, so whoever he puts there needs to get the job done.”
Jordan leads LSU with 28 RBI — Greg Deichmann is second on the team with 23 — and has been the Tigers’ primary cleanup hitter. He’s hit fourth in 26 of LSU’s 33 games. Nobody besides Romero (4) has hit cleanup more than once this season.
Mainieri noted Jordan’s power as a positive factor in batting him behind Deichmann in his customary four spot, but added he still needed to see greater consistency from his sophomore left fielder.
“I’m that guy,” Jordan said. “I need to step up. (Mainieri) has told me I need to step up and drive in some more runs, and I need to do that. If you have runners on base, whether you’re seventh or you’re fourth, it doesn’t matter.”
Despite the struggles from the cleanup spot, LSU has scored double-digit runs in four of its last seven games while posting a 5-2 record in that span.
That surge will be tested this weekend by a Missouri rotation headlined by the one-two punch of veteran Reggie McClain (3-1, 3.30 ERA) and flame-throwing sophomore Tanner Houck (4-2, 2.23 ERA).
Following a similar motif of LSU starters Jared Poche’ and Alex Lange — Mainieri said he’ll likely keep the rotation Poche’-Lange-John Valek after rainouts cancelled two previous attempts to make a front end switch — the former is a grinder who pitches to contact while the latter features a mid-to-upper 90s fastball and strikes out more than a man an inning.
Lange and LSU beat Houck in Alex Box Stadium when the two dueled last season — success against Vanderbilt’s hard-throwers gives players confident they can do it again — but Mainieri knows first-hand how lethal he can be. He coached him this summer as an assistant on Team USA.
“I’ll tell ya, he was really outstanding,” Mainieri said. “He was the starting pitcher the night we no-hit the Cuban national team. He was probably 95-97 (mph) and threw a lot of strikes. Reminded you a bit of Aaron Nola with his delivery. Obviously I prefer Aaron Nola, but there’s no question Tanner Houck is one of the best pitchers in the country. He’s going to be a tremendous challenge.
NEWS AND NOTES
– After using him to get the final two outs in Wednesday’s too-close-for-comfort 14-11 win over Grambling, Mainieri said he’d give “strong consideration” to having Hunter Newman on the mound in the ninth inning should LSU have a save situation this weekend. He said it would depend on if he’d already needed to use the jack-of-all-trades reliever in a key spot earlier in the game.
– Jake Latz and his surgically repaired elbow didn’t respond the way Mainieri had hoped following the lefty’s 36-pitch debut, the coach said. “He didn’t feel so good the next day,” Mainieri said. “He didn’t respond to the game as well as we would have hoped after the fact. It’s still a concern.” Mainieri wasn’t sure if Latz would need to see a doctor again. He didn’t make the trip to Missouri.
– Freshman third baseman O’Neal Lochridge’s back also didn’t respond the way Mainieri had hoped after returning to practice Monday and participating in pregame warmups prior to Tuesday’s game. He’s also not traveling.
– LSU players not making the trip to Missouri: Latz, Lochridge, Alden Cartwright, Nick Bush, Bryce Adams, Cody Ducote and Cole McKay.