The trip back from Houston wasn’t a pleasant one for many in the LSU baseball program. After a thrilling win against Oklahoma, the Tigers were underwhelmed by their performance against Texas and certainly against Baylor.
Errors and missed opportunities were big story lines throughout that weekend but how this group responded was a big deal for coach Jay Johnson. The Tigers picked up commanding wins over UNO and three straight against Bethune-Cookman to really gain momentum for what is a tough week of games ahead for the purple and gold.
“We were frustrated with that Sunday game against Baylor which I was happy to see that,” Johnson said. “They wanted to play better and there’s some things we need to do better that weekend showed us. You’re dealing with highly prideful and competitive guys.”
With Tulane coming to town Tuesday evening and Texas A&M to open up conference play, Johnson has been impressed with the way the team responded in the field and on the mound this past weekend. There was really only one poor inning on the mound against Bethune-Cookman and it was another great lesson for this team that had to fight all the way back down four runs.
It not only displayed that this offense can never truly be counted out of any game but also that the bullpen remains a strength for this team as SEC play approaches.
“I think that showed on the defensive side of the ball this week. We only mishandled one play in the infield for four days and that’s great,” Johnson said. “We made a couple of small tweaks and I anticipate that to be a story that doesn’t last very long.
On the mound over the last four games, there really hasn’t been much to complain about. Outside of a wrist injury to starter Blake Money which isn’t though to be serious, LSU pitchers filled up the strike zone and turned in one of the more complete performances of the season.
What stood out perhaps more than anything else was the pitching performances of Ty Floyd and Ma’Khail Hilliard, two players who have started multiple games but been up and down. All Floyd and Hilliard did was combine to throw 12 innings of one run baseball with 14 strikeouts, with 114 of 165 total pitches going for strikes.
With the schedule now expected to ramp up, Hilliard is convinced this staff is ready to take that next step.
“We’re more than ready. I think mentally we need to work on a couple of things but we fill up the strike zone every outing,” Hilliard said. “We need to keep going up, stay on the same mindset and not try to do anything too different than what we’ve already done.”
“Really from the mound I think the pitching was the story of the weekend,” Johnson added. “This offense, this group of position players, if we throw strikes the way we did this weekend we’re gonna be in a good spot to win a lot of games.”
The theory for Johnson about the position players has a number of factors that play into who plays on what day. LSU has rolled out a number of different lineup and batting order combinations as it continues to zero in on which ones work best. Most recently, Giovanni. DiGiacomo has received extended work in right field, moving Jacob Berry back to third base where he started the year.
For Johnson it’s about striking that balance between offense and defense as the Tigers have been much crisper in the field over the last week, which bodes well for momentum heading into conference play. Because they’ve been improved defensively, it allows Johnson to play around with the offensive order a little bit more.
The strategy is to set up an order that’s capable of scoring two runs in every inning, no matter who’s due up at the plate and the Tigers responded with 28 runs against Bethune-Cookman. While the schedule will only get harder from here, shortstop Jordan Thompson feels this offense is starting to turn the corner of hitting that next level.
“It’s always good to see we’re putting up a lot of runs and hits but we just take it day by day,” Thompson said. “Every team we play is like a new playoff game for us. Just staying consistent with our approaches.”
Now the hope is that this recent gelling of all components of the game that was on display over the weekend will carry into the rest of the season.
(Photo courtesy of LSUsports)