Injury-riddled Tigers limp into Tuesday's Wally Pontiff Classic
The way LSU keeps losing baseball players to injuries, Tigers’ coach Paul Mainieri should soon be able to print his entire roster on the front and back of an index card.
“We’re down to 12 pitchers and probably 11 position players,” Mainieri said. “But it is what it is and we’ve got to deal with it. Nobody wants to hear excuses.”
After dropping two of three SEC games at chilly Missouri this past weekend when LSU (24-13, 9-6 in SEC) lost three starters with leg injuries, the Tigers now face a short week starting with Tuesday night’s Wally Pontiff Classic battle with Louisiana-Lafayette at the Shrine on the Airline in Metairie.
LSU’s rollcall of injuries is so extensive that the Tigers’ trainer Cory Couture couldn’t recite it from memory to Mainieri when they met Monday morning. He had to return to his office to grab a list of the walking wounded.
“That’s a bad sign when your trainer can’t remember everybody that’s hurt,” Mainieri said. “I’m not sure I’ve ever had a situation where I lost three players to leg injuries in 11 innings.”
In the 12-11 series opening win at Missouri, LSU lost starting pitcher Zach Hess with a pulled groin after just eight pitches and then center fielder Zach Watson hurt a groin when he tried to beat out a ground ball to lead off the eighth inning.
Then early in Saturday’s 4-1 loss, third baseman Chris Reid’ was pulled from the game when his hamstring tightened.
In Sunday’s 11-5 loss, third baseman Hal Hughes sustained sore ribs and a sore hand when he and second baseman Brandt Broussard collided tracking down a wind-blown infield pop-up.
Freshmen pitchers Landon Marceaux and Jaden Hill, who started early in the season, are trying to return to form from injuries.
Marceaux, who was out with a sore arm for three weeks until he started last Tuesday against Southern, has a sore arm again. Hill is rehabbing an elbow iniury that has sidelined him since the first two weeks of the season.
Then, there’s senior pitcher Caleb Gilbert, who has physically healed from last summer’s shoulder surgery but hasn’t been declared game-ready by Mainieri and pitching coach Alan Dunn.
Last month, Mainieri said Gilbert was still struggling with his mechanics and his confidence.
Mainieri doesn’t expect any of the freshly-injured to be available for any of this week’s four games, including Tuesday’s Pontiff Classic battle and a three-game SEC home series against uncharacteristically struggling Florida starting Thursday.
He said he’ll throw a string of relievers at Louisiana-Lafayette. Mainieri doesn’t have any idea who he’ll start on the mound in game one against Florida. He said he won’t move normal game two starter Cole Henry and game three starter Eric Walker up a day.
“They are already pitching on one day less rest,” Mainieri said.
If LSU fans think the sky is falling over the Tigers’ hot and cold performance in SEC play, just imagine what the Florida faithful are trying to swallow.
In its second season after beating LSU in two straight games to win the 2017 College World Series, Florida is just 6-9 in league play and is 0-6 in SEC road games after being swept at Vanderbilt and at Ole Miss.
Parity might be at an all-time high in the SEC. No team should ever feel safe.
“The parity across (college) baseball is so great now because of the roster limits,” Mainieri said. “A few injuries here and there, and it really balances things out.
“There’s a lot of coaches in the SEC that are sitting in their office on Monday morning scratching their heads. You guys saw what happened in the league (this past weekend).”
Tennessee, coming off consecutive series losses against Vanderbilt and Mississippi State gave Georgia its first league series loss of the year. The Vols blanked the Bulldogs 2-0 and 3-0 in games one and two.
Also, a week after Ole Miss celebrated a home sweep over Florida, the Rebels were stunned by Kentucky as the Wildcats got their first SEC series win of the season by winning a Sunday road doubleheader.
A deep dive into the SEC race after the first five weekends of league play reveals:
*Eight of 14 teams have won three SEC series or more (Georgia and Mississippi State have won four each).
*Thirteen of 14 teams haven’t won more than two consecutive series. Georgia won its first four series (a league-best) before losing at.
*Alabama, Auburn, Tennessee and Georgia are the only league teams with two shutout wins each in league play.
*Despite leading the East Division with a 10-5 record, three of Georgia losses were shutouts, the most in the conference.
*In the 35 SEC series to date, the home team has won 21 times (with one tie) including seven sweeps while the visiting team has captured 13 series with two sweeps.
The fact that LSU, despite its series loss at Missouri, is one game behind East and West Division leaders Georgia and Mississippi State at 10-5 respectively, is not lost on Mainieri.
“We’re at the exact midway point in the SEC schedule,” Mainieri said. “We always finish strong. Whenever tax day hits is when the Tigers seem to shift it into another gear.”
Mainieri said he understands his team has been inconsistent. But he also knows the Tigers are still in the thick of an extremely-even SEC race in which there has been little separation.
“We’re ranked anywhere between 10th and 15th in the country,” he said. “Our RPI is No. 11. We’re 9-6 after our first five SEC weekends. Three of our first five weekends were on the road.
“I knew with Kentucky we were going to face a first-round draft choice. I knew when we went to Georgia we were going to face a top eight national seed last year. Then the next week on the road at a team (Mississippi State) that was in the (College) World Series last year. Then, the fourth weekend we faced the No. 1 pitching team in the SEC (Texas A&M) and then the next weekend the new No. 1 pitching team (Missouri).
“I think one game out of first place is not a terrible position to be in with five weekends to go. All of our goals are still there right in front of us.
“If we do a great job the last 15 conference games, there’s no reason why we can’t finish in top seven or eight teams in the RPI, and that gives you a shot at a national seed.”
Mainieri likes that three of the Tigers’ final five SEC series are at home – Florida, Ole Miss and Auburn. LSU’s two away series are Alabama and Arkansas.
“My biggest concern is just that we get healthy so we can put our best foot forward,” Mainieri said. “I think our best baseball is ahead of us.”