LSU baseball season is here, so welcome to “Out of The Box,” SEC Country’s weekly column covering all things Tigers baseball. Check out SEC Country every Monday at 10:30 a.m. ET for your dose of news, notes, updates and analysis on Tigers baseball!
That was awesome
Seven games into the 2018 LSU baseball season, we already have a pretty strong candidate for game of the year. Trailing 5-0 in the top of the fifth inning, LSU’s offense stormed back to defeat Texas 10-5 on Saturday, riding great relief pitching, streaky contact hitting and some putrid Texas defense to victory.
The game was filled with moments to remember, from Hal Hughes’ double down the third-base line that Texas third baseman Kody Clemens misplayed to Austin Bain’s long double to deep straightaway center field to, of course, Beau Jordan’s ejection for flipping off Texas pitcher Chase Shugart. With all those memorable moments — or blunders if you’re a Texas fan — it’s easy to forget the actual winning play came on a wild pitch.
Freshman Nick Webre, who entered the game as a replacement after Jordan’s ejection, scored the go-ahead run by advancing from second to home on back-to-back wild pitches, giving the Tigers their first lead of the game. What’s more, he was only on second base in the first place because of some head’s up baserunning.
With one out in the seventh inning, Webre lined a ball into the left center field gap. For many, this hit was as simple of a single as they come. But Webre, displaying poise not ingrained in most freshmen, stretched his hit into two bases. LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri explained that Webre showed veteran knowledge in recognizing the outfielder was falling away on his throw. Here’s how Webre explained his thought process on the play:
“I put the ball in the gap. The left fielder made a very good read on it, he got around it. But I saw when he had the ball he was throwing to the cut-off man instead of throwing to the base. I saw that and I realized that was going to actually take more time to get to second, the ball, and I was just like ‘Alright, I’m just going to go for it,’ because especially since I have that window where he has to catch it and then throw it. That window was the main decision for that going for two.”
In effect, Webre seized the lead for LSU by taking three bases he probably shouldn’t have. Not bad for an outfielder and first baseman who isn’t known for being the fleetest of feet.
“No I didn’t,” Webre said laughing when asked if he expected to be a threat on the base paths. “But you know, it happens to everybody. You’ve got to be ready to make an impact in any way, whether that’s in the field, base running or hitting. I just tried to do my best in all aspects when I came in.”
The problem with pitching
For as exciting as LSU’s series win over Texas was, the Tigers’ problems on the mound continued. Though sophomore right-hander Zack Hess seemed to straighten out his woes, Saturday and Sunday starters Caleb Gilbert and Todd Peterson still looked lost.
To illustrate LSU’s current state of disarray in the starting pitching department, here’s what the Tigers’ stats look like right now through seven starts:
- Innings pitched: 24.2
- Earned runs: 31
- ERA: 11.31
- Hits allowed: 35 (12.77 per 9 innings)
- Walks: 15 (5.47 per 9 innings)
- Strikeouts: 17 (6.20 per 9 innings)
- Hit batters: 3
- Wild pitches: 2
Are the reinforcements coming?
LSU’s pitching staff doesn’t look great. If anything, it looks kind of bad. But the troops might be coming soon. Not yet, but soon.
The Tigers’ two best pitching recruits signed for 2018 are freshmen A.J. Labas and Nick Storz. Both have been limited this spring due to injuries. Mainieri said last week that Labas might be back as soon as this week, but pushed that timetable back a week or two after Labas didn’t look great throwing a simulated game. Storz doesn’t have a timetable for return exactly, but you can expect him to be in the mix by the end of March, more than likely.
In Storz and Labas you have LSU’s most likely replacements for Peterson and Cam Sanders as the Tigers’ No. 3 and No. 4 starters. Mainieri is on record as saying Storz might be the best candidate to have “Friday night stuff” on the team. If these two can heal properly, they might be ready for the rotation by the time SEC play starts up.
Of course, you don’t want a freshman making his debut in a start against an SEC opponent. When these guys get back, they’ll have to be eased in. Rest assured that LSU does have options coming up. They might not pan out, but they’re options nonetheless.
Your weekly LSU baseball power rankings
Two weeks into the season, here are Out of the Box’s official rankings of the top-5 performers on the LSU baseball team. This is based purely on performance, not reputation, so Zach Watson’s injury-shortened season will not be included, nor will that of injured shortstop Josh Smith.
- No. 5, RP Matthew Beck (Last week: NR): This spot easily could’ve gone to fellow relief pitcher Trent Vietmeier, but this week we give it to Matthew Beck. The sophomore has thrown 5 shutout innings of relief across three appearances, allowing just 1 hit and 1 walk with 8 strikeouts. Opponents are hitting .063 off him, the best mark of any pitcher on the squad.
- No. 4, OF Antoine Duplantis (Last week: No. 3) Antoine Duplantis is a darn good hitter who finally appears to be developing some patience at the plate. Duplantis is hitting .345 with 2 triples, a double and 5 RBI, but he also has 6 walks to tie for the team lead. By comparison, Duplantis walked 16 times in all of 2017.
- No. 3, DH/RP Austin Bain (Last week: NR) It’s time to hop aboard the Bain Train. Austin Bain is hitting .389 with 4 doubles and a slugging percentage of .611 as LSU’s new designated hitter, and he’s thrown 3.1 shutout innings of relief with 5 strikeouts. Opponents are hitting .167 off him and he’s hitting nearly .400. That’s worthy of a mention.
- No. 2, OF Beau Jordan (Last week: No. 1) Suspension or not, Beau Jordan is still hitting the seams off the ball. His team-high slugging percentage of .889 is ridiculous, with 5 of his 7 hits going for extra bases. He’s also scored a team-high 9 runs despite missing a game and a half this weekend because of his ejection.
- No. 1, 2B Brandt Broussard (Last week: No. 2) Your No. 8 hitter isn’t supposed to bat .478 and lead your team in hits (11) and RBI (10). But Brandt Broussard is doing just that. The Delgado Community College transfer is stepping in nicely for Cole Freeman, playing error-free defense and pacing the team with a .500 on-base percentage. Regression is inevitable, but the ride has been fun.
What’s next for LSU baseball?
LSU has a packed week ahead of itself, playing five games against four teams over the next seven days. The Tigers host Grambling on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. CT, travel to Hammond to face Southeastern on Wednesday, then host Toledo, Sacred Heart and Southeastern for a weekend series. All four home games will be broadcast online through SEC Network+ at WatchESPN and the Wednesday game will be televised on CST.
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