Most hitters dread facing a flame-throwing ace like Zack Hess or Florida’s Brady Singer who can dominate an opposing lineup with a mid-90s heater and swing-and-miss breaking ball.
Not LSU. If you want to shut down the Tigers, your best bet may be to find a smallish lefty who fills up the strike zone with a fastball that tops out in the mid-80s.
“Man, if you want to stymie the LSU Tigers, just throw a soft-throwing left-hander who throws strikes,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “I’ve seen enough of those guys in the early part of the season. Hope I don’t see any more of them the rest of the year. We hit so much better off guys who throw harder.”
So much for that. LSU (5-4) is expected to face soft-tossing southpaws on Friday night against Toledo and Saturday against Sacred Heart, and they’ll again be doing so without their best right-handed bat.
Center fielder Zach Watson isn’t expected to return to the lineup this weekend, Mainieri said. LSU sent the dynamic sophomore for a precautionary MRI on Thursday afternoon as he continues to deal with pain in oblique.
“I was coming in today hoping he would be (ready to return), but he’s not,” Mainieri said. “I’d be very surprised if we saw him this weekend. We’re actually sending him for an MRI this afternoon. His pain was higher up on his side and now it’s lower. It’s really been befuddling to us.
“We still think it’s a muscular problem, but it’s been kind of frustrating for everybody that it’s taken so long.”
The splits for LSU against right-handed pitching compared to lefties have been stark through nine games this season. The Tigers are mashing righties at a .324 clip while hitting just .247 against lefties.
Watson’s absence is a part of that, as he sat out as Grambling lefty Christian Marquez tied LSU in knots for five innings on Tuesday, but that doesn’t tell the entire story. The Tigers also took two passes through the order before starting to figure out Notre Dame lefties Scott Tully and Tommy Sheehan on opening weekend.
“The first thing is sample size. You don’t see very many lefties in college baseball,” LSU analytics guru Micah Gibbs said. “It’s about getting used to it. We don’t have a lot of guys, so they don’t see a lot of guys in the fall and spring that are left handed. And when Watson is out of the lineup, we have a couple of extra left-handed hitters, which is tough. But as the season goes on, it’s one of those things you expect to get a bit closer to the mean.”
LSU hitters also don’t see a lot of pitchers who top out at 85 mph with their fastball, which makes for an adjustment. It may not seem like a huge difference, but it’s difficult to re-calibrate for hitters who are geared up for 90+ mph fastballs on a daily basis.
Beau Jordan is one of the Tigers who’ve hit lefties well so far this season. He’s 5-for-9 (.556) with a home run and two doubles against southpaws through nine games.
The trick, he says, is sitting back and avoiding the temptation to swing out of your shoes like it’s batting practice.
“You’ve just got to make mid-game adjustments,” Jordan said. “That’s the biggest part. We’ve done that pretty well, but we’ve got to come out and score early. We need to work on that.”
As for the lefties in LSU’s lineup, Antoine Duplantis (5-for-12) has handled the left-on-left match-ups fine and Hunter Feduccia, who has only recorded three at-bats against lefties, has the full confidence of the staff to hit whoever is pitching. Freshmen Daniel Cabrera (0-for-8) and Nick Webre (2-for-11) have had a bit more difficulty.
LSU is limited in terms of lineup flexibility until Watson returns, but it got a big boost from Jake Slaughter in the form of a three-run homer off a Southeastern lefty on Wednesday night. The Tigers need more of that this weekend from one of its remaining power threats from the right side.
“What’s hurt us is some of the right-handed hitters haven’t been hitting the lefties,” Mainieri said. “Last night Jake Slaughter hit a three-run homer, and what a huge lift that was for the team. We need guys like Slaughter to rise up against left-handed pitching and carry a big portion of the weight.”
It’d be in LSU’s best interest to turn it around now before the degree of difficulty gets ratcheted up against the likes of Mississippi State’s Konnor Pilkington and Ole Miss’ Ryan Rolison come Southeastern Conference play.
LSU – So. RHP Zack Hess (1-1, 10.80 ERA, 8.1 IP, 8 BB, 12 SO)
Toledo – Jr. LHP Michael Jacob (0-1, 7.15 ERA, 11.1 IP, 6 BB, 11 SO)
LSU – Jr. RHP Caleb Gilbert (0-0, 10.80 ERA, 8.1 IP, 2 BB, 3 SO)
Sacred Heart – Sr. LHP James Taubl (0-1, 9.00 ERA, 3.0 IP, 1 BB, 1 SO)
LSU – Fr. RHP AJ Labas (making collegiate debut)
Southeastern La. – Jr. RHP Kade Granier (1-0, 0.00 ERA, 6.0 IP, 2 BB, 9 SO)
LSU vs. Toledo: Friday, March 2 – 7 p.m. CT
LSU vs. Sacred Heart: Saturday, March 3 – 6 p.m. CT
LSU vs. Southeastern Louisiana: Sunday, March 4 – 3 p.m. CT
Alex Box Stadium, Skip Bertman Field in Baton Rouge, La. (10,326)
LSU – No. 14 by Collegiate Baseball; No. 16 by Baseball America
Toledo/Sacred Heart/Southeastern La. – unranked
LSU Sports Radio Network affiliates
Baton Rouge affiliate is WDGL 98.1 FM
Live audio and live stats at www.LSUsports.net
SEC Network+ – the games may be viewed at WatchESPN.com and the Watch ESPN app
- Toledo– LSU leads the all-time series with Toledo, 1-0. The only prior meeting between the schools came in 2014, when LSU posted a 15-1 win over Toledo in Alex Box Stadium, Skip Bertman Field.
- Sacred Heart –LSU leads the all-time series with Sacred Heart, 3-0, with all three games being played in Baton Rouge. The Tigers defeated the Pioneers, 6-1, in 2011,10-2 in 2013 and 8-1 in 2014.
- Southeastern Louisiana– LSU leads Southeastern Louisiana, 69-18, in a series that began in 1937. LSU has won 23 of the last 25 meetings between the schools, but SLU posted a 5-4 win over the Tigerson Wednesday night in Hammond. LSU has a 42-4 mark against Southeastern Louisiana since 1990.
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