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March 24, 2014

Low-scoring games hit SEC

One week ago, LSU coach Paul Mainieri praised the ability of the Vanderbilt pitching staff which held his team to 14 hits in a three-game series.

The Tigers scored ten runs while losing two of three games against the Commodores. It was expected that LSU's offensive production would increase in the second weekend of Southeastern Conference play. Georgia's group of hurlers was not of the same talent as those of Vanderbilt.

The Tigers did collect more hits against the Bulldogs with 25 in the three games. However, the number of runners crossing the plate decreased. LSU managed just eight runs in 29 innings. The Tigers settled for a 2-2, 13-inning tie Sunday to prevent them from sweeping the series.

So, with two of ten SEC series in the books, concern about LSU's hitting prowess has arisen. The Tigers have a .199 batting average in the six conference games. Of the eight players who have started at least four of the six games, only four are batting higher than .160.

LSU has scored 18 runs, which translate to a mere three runs per SEC game. The Tigers have a 3-2-1 record, which puts them just one-half game behind tri-leaders Auburn, Ole Miss and Mississippi State, because of a pitching staff which has yielded only a total of 19 runs.

However, fans are going to have to get used to this type of baseball game in the SEC. Through two weekends, only two teams are averaging five runs per game - Mississippi State (5.8) and Ole Miss (5.0). Eight of the 14 teams are scoring fewer than four runs per conference game.

With few runs being scored, one must expect plenty of tight games.

"When games are low-scoring, you are going to win some and lose some," Mainieri said. "That means the standings are going to be close. Not one team in the league stands out. There is good pitching, good defense, moderate hitting. There is not one great hitting team. Lots of pitchers are throwing really well."

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LSU certainly fits Mainieri's description. Opposing hitters have a .219 batting average in the Tigers' six conference games. Meanwhile, Sean McMullen (.333), Christian Ibarra (.278), Mark Laird (.261) and Conner Hale (.227) are the four LSU regulars batting higher than .160 in the SEC.

The Tigers have committed just three errors in the six SEC games - all coming in the series at Vanderbilt. Of the 19 runs LSU has given up, only one has been unearned.

One Tigers player has low numbers - shortstop Alex Bregman. A year ago at this time, Bregman's batting average was over .400. Currently, Bregman is hitting .337. His .130 batting average in SEC games is more troublesome. Mainieri moved Bregman out of the three-hole for the first time in his career Sunday.

"I never would have predicted that Alex Bregman would be 3-for-23 in the first six SEC games," Mainieri said. "I did see some good signs this weekend. He crushed a ball to leftfield Friday and he had a beautiful hit-and-run single Sunday. Alex never gets down on himself and never quits working.

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"I remember Blake Dean hitting about .230 in 2009 after he had a great year in 2008. Raph Rhymes had a tough stretch last year after leading the national in hitting the year before. Hitting a baseball is the hardest thing to do in sports. Alex is not superhuman. He bleeds like all of us."

One day after seeing his team squander numerous opportunities to get a sweep against Georgia, Mainieri had a positive attitude about his team's situation.

"Everything that happened (Sunday) was flushed at midnight," Mainieri said. "It was a terribly frustrating day. We had 22 base-runners and only scored two runs. But, things are never as bad as they appear. We didn't strike out at all Sunday. We never made an error in three games.

"What looked bad was we popped up two bunts (Hale and Andrew Stevenson) and we had three weird base-running plays (Laird, Ibarra and Dakota Dean). But, I also remember four at-bats where we crushed the ball (two by both McMullen and Kramer Robertson). We win the ball game with a little bit of luck."

The Tigers will spend this entire week on the road - Tuesday at Tulane and this weekend at Florida. Neither the Green Wave nor the Gators is a world-beater. Tulane is 12-11 overall, while Florida has split its first six SEC games.

LSU will be at a disadvantage Tuesday because of Sunday's 13-inning game. Relievers Henri Faucheux, Zac Person and Parker Bugg will not be available. Mainieri doesn't want to use Joe Broussard. Alden Cartwright, who has been dealing with a shoulder strain, may be able to pitch Tuesday.

So, the Tigers have just five pitchers definitely available to be used against Tulane - Cody Glenn, Hunter Devall, Brady Domangue, Nate Fury and Kurt McCune. Glenn will get the start against the Green Wave.

"We are going to let Cody go (as long as he can)," Mainieri said. "We thought about going with Devall, but we need Cody. We have given him a lot of chances. Here is another one."

Mainieri is still not sure if Kyle Bouman, who sprained an ankle a week ago, will be able to pitch at Florida. According to Mainieri, Bouman will throw in the bullpen early this week to see how he is progressing.



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