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March 21, 2014

Regaining confidence at the plate

All the numbers have been repeated quite a few times in the past few days - 10 runs and 14 hits.

Those figures represent the offensive production for LSU in its series against Vanderbilt last weekend. The Tigers, who never had more than five hits in a game, batted just .147 against the Commodores' hard-throwing pitching staff. Still, LSU was able to salvage one game of the series.

The Tigers were struggling at the plate for five innings against South Alabama on Wednesday night. Then, LSU broke loose for seven runs and six hits in the sixth inning against the Jaguars. Tigers hitters hope that one inning will provide some momentum when Georgia visits The Box this weekend.

"Wednesday night we put together some good at-bats," said Alex Bregman, who had just one hit in the three games at Vanderbilt. "We swung at good pitches. That was a step in the right direction. If we keep the right approach, that will help the rest of the season. We'll be fine. We have a good offense."

Georgia will certainly not bring the same caliber of pitching to The Box this weekend as LSU faced at Vanderbilt a week ago. Only one of the Bulldogs weekend starters has an earned run average below 3.33 - freshman Robert Tyler, who will pitch Saturday.

Georgia's team ERA sits at 4.23, while opponents have a .270 batting average. The Bulldogs have allowed at least seven runs in seven of their 22 games. Georgia did allow only 11 runs in losing two of three games to Mississippi State last weekend.

"I don't know if our offensive approach changes this week," LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. "We respect every pitcher. We know they have talent. Tyler is a freshman who had the best arm out of the state of Georgia last year.

"You compete against every pitcher as hard as you can. You have a certain approach and do your job. I am confident we have a good hitting team. That was an extraordinary pitching staff we saw last week."

Bregman refused to talk about what occurred in Nashville last week. Bregman's batting average has fallen to .359. He has not had a multiple hit game in nearly two weeks.

"I am not talking about last week," Bregman said. "I forgot about everything that happened. I am in the biggest slump in my life and I'm still hitting .360. I have never not hit. I don't know the exact numbers, but I've never gone 4-for-25. I am not really worried about it."

Mark Laird, a two-year starter like Bregman, is taking a different approach from what occurred in the Vanderbilt series.

"We analyze what we did last week," said Laird, who also had just one hit against Commodores pitching. "We learn what we can from those games. (Wednesday) night, I hit some balls hard. I need to hit line drives and hard ground balls through the infield. If I do that, it will be a productive night."

Christian Ibarra was another returning starter, who had just one hit against Vanderbilt. Ibarra had missed the two games prior to the series against the Commodores because of a hamstring injury. Ibarra believes LSU will start scoring some runs.

"It was a pretty big change for everybody facing 95 miles per hour from Vanderbilt pitchers," Ibarra said. "We should be able to see the ball easier this week when it's 86 miles per hour. We scored ten runs last weekend. I don't think anybody else in the league has a staff like that.

"I think we are going to do more situational hitting. Move the runner over and get him in with a clutch hit. Coach (Mainieri) believes in being aggressive early in the count. Overall, we have a good hitting team."

Both Ibarra and Laird have seen their numbers dip from a year ago. Ibarra batted .305, while Laird hit .307 in 2013. As the regular season moves toward the halfway point next week, Ibarra has a .255 batting average, while Laird has a .281 batting mark.

"I've been seeing the ball well," Ibarra said. "The balls I'm hitting are not going through for me. So, I am going to keep the same approach."

One positive sign for both Ibarra and Laird is the fact that both have more walks than strikeouts. Ibarra has seven walks and four strikeouts, while Laird has received 12 walks and struck out seven times.

"I have not gotten a lot of breaks," Laird said. "I have been making good contact. One of the main things we have to do is capitalize when runners are on base. We have to drive in runners from third and get clutch two-out hits. We also have to start innings by getting runners on base and moving them over."


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