Notebook: Tigers Set for Season's "Most Important Week"

by Cody Worsham
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Notebook: Tigers Set for Season's "Most Important Week"

It’s that time of year for LSU Baseball. When the weather heats up, the Tigers usually follow suit.

Paul Mainieri‘s teams have a way of playing their best baseball late in the season, and as the No. 9 Tigers (26-15, 11-7 SEC) head into a four-game week – beginning Tuesday vs. Lamar in Alex Box Stadium and wrapping up with a weekend trip to Alabama – Mainieri is putting all of his chips on the table.

“This is the most important week of the year for me,” Mainieri said Monday. “If we’re going to be contenders for the SEC championship, the SEC Western Division championship, to be a (regional) host, we’ve got to get the job done this week. Make no bones about that.”

LSU enters the week one game back of first place in the SEC West and two games back of the SEC lead overall, despite battling a number of injuries at key spots.

Zack Hess missed his Friday start after suffering a groin injury April 12 at Missouri, though he returned Sunday against Florida out of the bullpen. Centerfielder Zach Watson, the team’s leading hitter, and third baseman Chris Reid, its cleanup man for most of the year, each missed all but two at-bats of the series against the Gators. That’s not to mention games missed from pitchers like Jaden Hill and Landon Marceaux, who will get the start Tuesday against Lamar.

There are signs that LSU’s best baseball is in front of them, though.

Traditionally, Maineri’s teams peak after the halfway mark of SEC play. Since 2014, LSU has won 66.2 percent of its games in the second half of the conference schedule, while winning 59 percent in the first half.

“We always finish strong,” Mainieri said early last week. “Whenever tax day hits is when the Tigers seem to shift it into another gear.”

Last weekend served as a dose of encouragement, too, as the Tiger bats caught fire in a series win over Florida. Maineri’s men hit .368 and scored 33 runs against the Gators, with four home runs and 14 extra base hits. Antoine Duplantis (9-for-16, 7 RBI, three runs, .563 OBP) and Josh Smith (7-for-13, two doubles, one HR, three RBI, eight runs) dominated at the top of the order, while others like Brandt Broussard (4-for-12, six runs), Drew Bianco (3-for-7, five runs), and Giovanni DiGiacomo (5-for-13) chipped in, as well.

“I think there’s a lot of good things happening with our offense,” Mainieri said. “Thursday was a disaster, of course, from a pitching standpoint, starting out the game that way, but when you end up swinging the bats the way we did – 16 hits and scoring 9 runs – you could just see the guys were up there getting their money’s worth at the plate, and it carried into the next two days.

“This past weekend, everything came together, and they swung the bats as well as we’ve seen it in a long, long time.”

Marceaux’s Return

The freshman from Destrehan will get the ball Tuesday for the first time since a tough outing against Southern on April 9. In his only appearance since March 20 while battling arm soreness, Marceaux gave up five runs on five hits and two walks in just an innings of work.

“I’d really like to see him get hitters out,” Mainieri said. “He had a tough time doing that last time out against Southern. You’ve got to go out there, throw strikes, and get hitters out. Mix his pitches well, use all his pitches. I’d like to see an aura of confidence out there like he did earlier in the year.”

The goal is to throw Marceaux “two or three innings,” Mainieri said, with the hopes of having him available for the latter part of the series at Alabama.

“Hopefully he does well and becomes somebody we can use by Sunday as well,” Mainieri said.

Injury Updates

The Tigers are closer to seeing the return of two key hitters and another potential right-handed bat.

Watson and Reid each started Friday against Florida but returned to the bench shortly when it was clear they were not at full health.

Freshman infielder Gavin Dugas, meanwhile, has played in just three games this season, collecting three hits in five at bats and reaching base six times in eight plate appearances. In LSU’s left-handed heavy lineup – the Tigers are hitting .255 vs. lefties, as opposed to .287 vs. righties – the Houma native could offer a threat from the other side of the box.

“I’m hoping against left handed pitching is where he’ll help us the most,” Mainieri said. “He’ll probably DH or be a pinch hitter vs. left handed pitching.”

Sophomore infielder Hal Hughes, meanwhile, was set to see a doctor Monday or Tuesday to have his sore thumb examined.

Mainieri is hopeful all four will be available this weekend.