Dig Baton Rouge

Series Preview: LSU vs. Princeton

By Trey Mongrue
@TreyMongrue

Mother Nature has been cruel to LSU baseball over the past couple of days.

Last weekend, Paul Mainieri and the Tigers were forced to play an unconventional Friday double-header against Boston College due to threatening forecasts for Sunday. We found out later that Sunday probably would’ve been the best day, weather wise, for baseball to be played. Not only did it not rain, but it was the only day on the weekend where hurricane force winds weren’t battering those poor flags in centerfield.

No matter, LSU made quick work of the Eagles and were set to host Southeastern Louisiana on Wednesday, only now that has been pushed back to Thursday due to, surprise, more threatening forecasts.

As it stands now, the Tigers are now looking down the brunt of a six game stretch in seven days. While the upcoming opponents may not look too menacing, that many games squeezed into such a small time frame this early in the season will test even the deepest of rosters.

Thankfully for Mainieri, it appears that he has one of those deep rosters. And besides, there will probably be a couple of more rain postponements coming into play.

All this talk about weather though is laughable though, considering LSU welcomes Princeton to Alex Box Stadium/Skip Bertman Field. The Ivy League Tigers, based in New Jersey, open their season this weekend after almost exclusively having to practice indoors.

So in addition to talent, LSU has the upper hand in other areas as well. Keep in mind though, Princeton came down to Baton Rouge for a series in 2011 and left with a Sunday win. So, technically, an LSU sweep would be unprecedented for Mainieri.

The Masher From Maurepas
We have to keep reminding ourselves that only two weekends are in the box on this still infantile season. But in that same vein, it seems like the preseason practices and scrimmages are ancient history.

Like, remember when everybody believed as though it was only a matter of time before freshman Mike Papierski would become LSU’s first-choice catcher? Hell, I don’t think I had left behind a digital footprint on the subject (until now), but it took just two scrimmages for me to say to myself that Papierski was the Tigers’ best catcher.

Yeah, well, it’s taken just two weeks for me to say that the demise of Kade Scivicque has been greatly exaggerated.

Before I go any further in talking about Scivicque’s exploits, let it be known that this is in no way a slight at Papierski – he’s a fantastic backup/Sunday option to have behind the dish for the time being and will be the unquestioned No. 1 for the next two seasons.

Now as for Scivicque, he was named the Southeastern Conference’s Co-Player of Week after going 6-for-11 with four RBI and five runs scored on three extra base hits, including two home runs – I’ll get to that in just a second.

For the young season now, the senior from the booming metropolis of Maurepas has put up a line of .500/.524/1.056 (batting average/on base percentage/slugging percentage), which is first in every category among Tiger hitters that have registered more than 15 plate appearances this season.

(Only Jared Foster has Scivicque beat with a .545 average and a .615 OBP in 13 plate appearances – Shameless plug: here’s our feature on Foster from earlier this week.)

Scivicque also has a RC score (runs created) of 10.5 and is also one of just three Tigers who haven’t struck out, with the other two being Chris Sciambra and Grayson Byrd – those two have a combined 11 plate appearances, Scivicque has 21 by himself.

Basically speaking, Scivicque is putting the ball in play and when he does, LSU scores.

But beyond all of that, Scivicque at his core is a pure power hitter. He showed that with his team-high seven home runs last year and already has three this season with two during LSU’s 16-2 demolition of the Eagles last Saturday.

What was most impressive though was how he showed power to multiple parts of the field with those two homers.

The first came in the fourth when BC pitcher Justin Dunn served a fastball up-and-in and Scivicque turned on it, sending it on a trajectory towards the U-High baseball field behind the left field bleachers. Two innings later, Scivicque was shown a fastball again, but this time down and away and instead of trying to pull it, he went with the pitch and crushed it clear of the right center field wall.

Now on the other side of the coin, Scivicque has mainly been hitting in the bottom half of the order through these first seven games and, because of that, has only had six at bats with runners in scoring position so far. It’s actually the one thing on this two-week résumé of his that is not glowing. He has just one hit in those opportunities, although it was a three-run homer against Kansas, so even then it’s hard to find much fault.

But all of this talk about Scivicque’s offense has overshadowed the fact that he gunned down three would-be base stealers from behind the plate last weekend and, according to a tweet from LSU assistant coach Will Davis, was a perfect 13-for-13 in blocking pitches in the dirt.

So… yeah… it has been a pretty good two weeks for him.

‘There’s no More Waiting and Sure no More Wasting’
By now, we’ve heard a lot about that “famous” Thursday practice that took place the day after LSU’s loss to Nicholls St. According to Mainieri, players were at the field two hours earlier than usual and worked with the coaching staff on improving the team’s hitting approach, both mechanical and mental.

Talking with the team in the days that followed, I think I heard the word “aggressive” or some facsimile of it at least 100 times, not exaggerating.

Something was noticeably different with the LSU bats as soon as Friday when they pounded five extra base hits in the 8-3 win. By comparison, the Tigers had totaled just six extra base hits in the four previous games. LSU went on to tally 20 extra base hits for the weekend while hitting .304 in 46 at bats with runners in scoring position.

As for LSU’s three, four and five hitters, the combined to go 14-for-36 on the weekend, and a lot of that was because of Alex Bregman.

Mainieri mentioned before the series that his reason for sliding the junior shortstop down a spot in the order was because he simply wanted Bregman to not think as much when at the plate. In the two-hole, you’re still in sort of a table-setter mode where the focus is more about getting on base by any means necessary than swinging freely.

Looking at his swing rate against Boston College compared to the four games against Kansas and Nicholls, Bregman seemingly took that change in mindset to heart.

Bregman Swing Rate

Three of Bregman his five hits over the weekend came in at-bats where he saw three pitches or less. His home run on Saturday was on the first pitch. For the weekend he posted a line of .357/.400/.786.

But Bregman’s performance went beyond just simply attacking the early pitches. In a sense, he was still selective to a degree and that’s what makes him such a good hitter. Go back to his first at-bat of the series when Mark Laird and Jake Fraley saw a combined 6 pitches before him, leading to two outs. Bregman saw the same amount of pitches before lining a single to left center.

And then there was his at-bat four innings later when he quickly got ahead in the count 2-0. Instead of swinging for the fences on anything in the zone, Bregman watched three more pitches – all down and away – to run the count full. He finally got the pitch he wanted on the payoff, a fastball up-and-in, and he smacked a lead off double.

This past weekend was seeing how smart of a hitter Bregman is in a microcosm. By now, everyone knows that LSU goes as far as he goes. I think he’ll be “going” in the three-hole for the foreseeable future.

 

 

 

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