New combination in LSU lineup may be the best one

Bryan Lazare, senior writer
Tiger Bait

LSU’s offensive production has been on somewhat of a roller-coaster ride this season.

The Tigers have scored in double figures ten times in their first 38 games. However, there have been 14 games in which LSU has scored fewer than five runs. All but three of the Tigers’ 12 defeats have come in games in which they scored four runs or less.

Greg Deichmann has been a constant in the middle of the LSU batting order – hitting in the cleanup spot for all but five games. However, coach Paul Mainieri has not been able to settle on a No. 3 hitter. Kramer Robertson and Antoine Duplantis divided those duties in the first 31 games.

After Deichmann moved up one spot to bat third for five games, Mainieri tried a third player in the three-hole in the finale of the Ole Miss series. Zach Watson was inserted as the No. 3 batter. Watson went 1-for-4 in that game. Last Tuesday against Lamar, Watson had two hits in that slot in the lineup.

When LSU begins its weekend Southeastern Conference series against Kentucky at Cliff Hagan Stadium in Lexington with a Friday doubleheader (1 p.m. Central/SEC Digital Network), Watson is expected to be back in the lineup – one spot ahead of Deichmann.

“I think the same thing batting third as in any other spot in the lineup,” said Watson, a freshman who was the leadoff hitter during his high school career at West Monroe (La.) West Ouachita. “I just want to drive the ball up the middle.”

Deichmann, a junior who has been LSU’s top power threat with 12 home runs, likes having Watson batting just ahead of him in the lineup.

“It’s nice to have a young guy up there in the lineup who is aggressive and swings the bat,” Deichmann said. “I can give him some protection in the lineup.

“Watson batting third can help our run production early in the game if Kramer and Cole (Freeman) get on base. I like the way our lineup is set up now. We are getting some consistent hard contact from the three-hole.”

Watson began the season on the bench as he made one start in LSU’s first 13 games. Mainieri put Watson in the lineup for the first game of the Wichita State series. He has now started 24 of the Tigers’ last 25 games.

Since becoming a full-time starter, Watson has 31 hits in 92 at-bats (.337). Watson has steadily moved up in the batting order from ninth to sixth to fifth and now to third. He is currently on a 12-game hitting streak. In that stretch, Watson is 16-for-44 (.364).

“Starting off the season, I came in for a few games,” Watson said. “I just tried to do what I can do. Then, coach put me in the lineup. I wanted to show coach what I can do. Since I have been in the lineup, I have had the same approach and the same attitude. I do not want to give (Mainieri) a reason to take me out.”

Without a doubt, Deichmann is not coming out of the lineup. His 12 homers are one more than his total all of last season. Deichmann is batting .340 with a team-leading 45 RBIs. Heading into the Kentucky series, Deichmann is on a nine-game hitting streak. He has six multiple-hit games in that stretch.

“I am more or less happy with what I have done this year,” Deichmann said. “My numbers are right where they are supposed to be. In non-conference play, I got pitched around more than in the conference. That is backwards from what I expected.

“Pitchers in the SEC are confident in their stuff. It’s best (pitchers) against best (hitters). The SEC is always a challenge. I am trying to get more run production. I want to drive in runs. That’s why I’m here.”

Watson’s adjustment period has been rather short. His fellow freshman from the Monroe area – Jake Slaughter, who played at Class AA Ouachita Christian High School, has gone to the bench because of too many strikeouts.

“We played really good teams at (Class 4A) West Ouachita,” Watson said. “We played a lot of (Class) 5A teams down south. We wanted to face the best pitching. We competed well against them. My attitude is what has been different for me since high school. I am trying to stay off bad pitches.”

The Tigers will need production from Watson and Deichmann this weekend against a Kentucky team, which is known for its hitting. The Wildcats are first in the SEC East with a 10-5 conference record. LSU is fifth in the overall SEC standings – two games behind first-place Arkansas.

“We are where we want to be,” Deichmann said. “Everything is there for us to grab. We don’t need to change much from what we’ve been doing. We just need to focus and execute a little better. We need to step it up in the second half of the (SEC) schedule.”

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