Eddie Smith likens situational hitting to a dog in his kennel with a chew toy. That dog is not going to give up that chew toy to another dog for any reason.
With runners in scoring position, that’s the kind of mindset Smith wants his hitters to have. When they step up into the box and see a runner on second and third, they aren’t thinking to pass the RBI off to the man on deck.
He wants that RBI to himself.
“I think that’s a really important mindset to have as a hitter. You’re not looking to pass the baton, you’re looking to go get that RBI for yourself,” Smith said.
Over the last three years, the average team in the SEC is hitting eight points higher with runners in scoring position than they do overall. This season, LSU is scoring runners from third 61% of the time, just a touch lower than the 63% the Tigers have seen in recent years.
One of the primary goals for this team is trying to find more consistency in those situational hitting spots, doing so by having an aggressive edge with runners in scoring position. By nature, LSU has preached to its batters to be extremely aggressive early in counts.
“We need to make that our edge and not something we’re just middle of the pack in,” Smith said. “How do we do that? We just keep pressing forward, one percent better every day and see these guys who are getting this first year under their belt, improve on a high note.”
But when there are runners in scoring position, batters are seeing more breaking balls to try and force a strikeout from pitchers or playable fly balls and groundouts. Connecting on those off speed pitches is difficult for most college hitters and so the approach isn’t necessarily different but the mindset does have to heighten.
As a whole this season, the offense is averaging nearly seven runs a contest which is not bad but that number plummets in SEC play all the way to 3.9 runs a contest.
“The challenge that’s leaving us scratching our head is we need to score more in SEC play,” Smith said. “There’s naturally a decline but ours is more than we want it to be. I think the controllable’s are we have to keep that same confidence, that same belief when we face a little adversity.”
Sophomore Cade Doughty is currently tied with Gavin Dugas for the team lead in RBI this season with 38 a piece. For Doughty, when he steps up to the plate, he always has the mindset of bringing a guy in when he’s in scoring position and has really shined in those moments this season.
“Every time I step up to the plate, I’m just hoping to get the hit to contribute to the team,” Doughty said. “Maybe that can spark something, get us going especially in two out situations. I’m going up there just trying to contribute to the team.”
In what’s expected to be a chilly weekend in Oxford and facing two pitchers in Gunnar Hoglund and Doug Nikhazy, who have combined for 146 strikeouts this season, capitalizing with runners on base will be the key to the series.
“We put in a lot of work trying to understand each pitcher and certainly this league is full of a lot of aces,” Smith said. “We’re excited to go out there and get after it and find one more run than the other team does.”