Heading into LSU's series against South Carolina at The Box this weekend, Raph Rhymes is in the process of putting together a solid season.
Rhymes is batting .338 with two home runs and 34 runs batted in. Rhymes, who has collected 54 hits and 19 walks, has scored 38 runs. However, people are asking what's wrong with Rhymes.
That's the question one will receive when your previous two-year batting average was .397 with 95 RBIs. In addition, people will recall your best-in-the-nation .431 batting average from last season when you were chosen Southeastern Conference Player of the Year.
Entering the 2013 season, Rhymes knew it will be virtually impossible to duplicate the numbers from his junior campaign. The statistics show that Rhymes hasn't been as productive a hitter, particularly in SEC games, this spring.
Rhymes has a rather unspectacular .278 batting average (20-for-72) in six SEC series. He has driven home only 12 runs. Eliminate the series against Auburn and Rhymes' SEC numbers dip to .267 and six RBIs.
Rhymes admitted that his worst series of the year took place last Saturday at Alabama. After getting three hits and three RBIs in the first game, Rhymes was 1-for-11 the next two days. In the Tigers' 4-3 loss Sunday, Rhymes made the final out in an inning with a runner in scoring position three times.
"Any time you don't have a good day at the plate, it's frustrating," Rhymes said. "But, it's hard to complain when you are 38-4. When I don't get the job done, that's when it is frustrating. I didn't get the job done last weekend. I had a few opportunities and I could have done a lot more."
LSU coach Paul Mainieri had a conversation Tuesday with Rhymes, whom he calls "his favorite player." Mainieri felt that Rhymes had lost a bit of his cockiness this season.
"Let me say that if Raph Rhymes didn't get another hit, he is still one of my all-time favorites," Mainieri said. "Here's someone who gave up his scholarship last year so we could improve the team. His attitude is exemplary. He works harder than anybody.
"But, when you don't get a hit, you get frustrated. When you get frustrated, you lose confidence. Last year you could tell Raph was going to get a hit from the time he left the on-deck circle. He doesn't seem to have the same strut this year. I told him to get that strut back."
On Wednesday against Tulane, Rhymes and Mason Katz switched places in the lineup. Katz moved up to the cleanup spot with Rhymes dropping to fifth. Rhymes, a ground ball hitter, had been hitting into a few too-many double plays recently.
Rhymes responded to the lineup change by having just his fourth game of the year in which he had more than two hits. He singled three times - all going to the right of second base. Rhymes snapped a 2-2 tie with a two-run single to right centerfield in the sixth inning.
"The kind of hitter I am, I do hit a lot of ground balls," Rhymes said. "Some days, those balls find a hole. Some days, they are right at somebody. During batting practice Wednesday, I worked on going to the opposite field. (Mainieri) had told me I have been a little passive. So, I wanted to be more aggressive."
Katz, a three-year starter like Rhymes, feels that teams will pay the price if they pitch around him. That situation unfolded against Tulane when Katz drew a walk to fill the bases just prior to Rhymes' key hit in the sixth inning.
"If teams are not going to pitch to me, they have to pitch to a guy who led the nation in hitting last year," Katz said. "Raph is hitting around .330 and that's not good enough for Raph. He hits higher than that. (Wednesday), he was more confident."
Rhymes has struck out 22 times this season - more than he did in either of the last two years. Rhymes struck out 19 times in 2011 and 13 times in 2012.
"I have taken some called third strikes this year," Rhymes said. "It's hard to say right now why. It has been a shock to me as well. Sometimes, it has been me. Sometimes, they have been making good pitches. I have watched video of myself. I have not seen a lot of major differences from last year."
Mainieri acknowledged that Rhymes made a slight adjustment prior to the Tulane game. Rhymes relaxed his hands which probably made him less tense at the plate.
"Raph made a little adjustment and it worked for him," Mainieri said. "He had a great night (against Tulane) and we needed it desperately.
"Raph had so many clutch hits last year and he has had a lot of clutch hits this year. He has just not been as consistent this year. Raph needs to start hitting the first pitch a little more. He just needs to act like a guy who knows he is going to get a hit."