LSU coach Paul Mainieri acknowledged Monday that the goal for his team’s offense is scoring five runs each game.
Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports
The Tigers have reached the five-run mark 20 times in their first 29 games. LSU won 17 of those 20 games – losing only to UNO (11-8), TCU (9-6) and Tulane (7-6).
Therefore, the Tigers have won only two of the nine games in which they have scored fewer than five runs. That won-loss record needs improvement over the second half of the regular season.
LSU is not scoring less than five runs in more games so far in 2017. The Tigers have scored no more than four runs in 31 percent of their games this season. In six of Mainieri’s first ten years as LSU coach, his team put less than five runs on the scoreboard in about 30 percent of the games.
However, the Tigers’ 2-7 record in those contests in which they scored no more than four runs would be the second poorest under Mainieri. The 2011 LSU team had a 2-14 record in games in which it scored less than five runs. That 2011 squad did not reach the NCAA tournament.
This statistic indicates two problems for the Tigers at the halfway point of the regular season – inconsistent relief pitching and spotty clutch hitting. The LSU bullpen has given up leads from the fifth inning on five times this year – including Saturday’s demoralizing 4-3 loss against Texas A&M.
Meanwhile, the top four hitters in the Tigers batting order – Cole Freeman, Antoine Duplantis, Kramer Robertson and Greg Deichmann – have not been at their best in the past seven games in which their record is 2-5. In those games, these four players are a combined 21-for-109 (.193).
Mainieri announced Monday he is making a change to strengthen the bullpen. Zack Hess, who has been the midweek starter all season, is going to join the relievers. The intention is for Hess to be one of the relief pitchers to be used at the back end of the game – along with Caleb Gilbert and Hunter Newman.
“We are moving Zack to the bullpen,” Mainieri said. “He is one of our better pitchers. We need him in the bullpen right now. The criticism the last few years is that we don’t have a No. 3 or No. 4 starter. This year we have a third (Eric Walker) and fourth starter (Hess) and I think it has hurt our bullpen.
“Our starters have been going deep into the game and our relief pitchers have not been getting much work. Our bullpen guys are not as sharp because they have not pitched as much. Todd Peterson and Nick Bush have not pitched enough. They need more mound time to stay sharp.”
Mainieri will return to his plan of using multiple pitchers in the midweek games. Peterson will be the first of what could be nine pitchers in the game at The Box on Tuesday against Grambling (6:30 p.m. Central/SEC Digital Network).
“I am not sure how we are going to do the end of the game going forward. I am not down on Caleb Gilbert. We need to get stronger down there (bullpen). That’s why I’m making the move with Hess.”
There are few options for Mainieri as regards the everyday lineup. Rankin Woley replaced a slumping Jake Slaughter in the final two games of the Texas A&M series. Woley went 2-for-8 with both hits coming in the Friday victory. Mainieri said that Slaughter will be back in the lineup against Grambling.
Mainieri pointed his finger at the lack of production of his three veteran players – Freeman, Robertson and Deichmann. In the last seven games, Freeman is 6-for-27 (.222), Robertson is 5-for-30 (.167) and Deichmann is 3-for-25 (.120). They have driven in just eight runs – five by Robertson against the Aggies.
“I have talked to these players about this,” Mainieri said. “They know this. Our veterans have to lead us. We need Kramer to produce for us. We need Cole to produce for us. We need Greg to produce for us. It’s hard to count on three freshmen and a catcher who is primarily a defensive player.
“It’s hard to put the onus on a few guys, but that’s the reality of where we are. I don’t know if Greg is not getting good pitches or he is missing them when he gets them. There is a lot of pressure on Greg. People are pitching him tough.”
It is not as if LSU is in horrible shape in the Southeastern Conference standings. The Tigers are just two games behind the league’s tri-leaders – Arkansas, Auburn and Kentucky. LSU has series against all three of those teams, including one against the Razorbacks in Fayetteville this weekend.
“We’re one out away from being 6-3 and one game out of first,” Mainieri said. “We would be feeling good winning two of three series, one by a sweep. But, it didn’t work out that way. It’s not unique to us. How do you think Florida felt when they were beating us and gave up three homers in the eighth inning?
“Florida came back this weekend and swept Missouri. South Carolina led Auburn by two runs in the ninth inning Sunday and lost on a three-run pinch-hit homer. My biggest job is to keep the guys in a positive frame of mind.”
Mainieri admitted that the Saturday loss to the Aggies stuck with him for 24 hours.
“I was pretty miserable (Sunday),” Mainieri said. “Now, it’s like time to get back to work (Monday). We have to find a way to win those kinds of games. Our starting pitching has been outstanding and our defense has been outstanding.
“The offense has been up and down. I’d like to have some consistency with our offense and then there’s the bullpen. That’s why we’re putting Hess down there.”