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Paul Mainieri Pleased With Development Of LSU Bullpen, Offense After Strong Finish to Weekend

Tigers relief pitchers keep team in all weekend games, offense finds footing in series finale

A week ago this time there was some general concern about the LSU bullpen. For three straight games against UTSA, the bullpen had squandered leads late in each outing and while the LSU offense was able to bail them out in each game, it was still a glaring issue that needed to be addressed. 

For the SEC opening series against Mississippi State, while the Tigers did lose two of three, the bullpen made great strides keeping LSU in a couple of tightly contested games and closed the series on Sunday with a win. Ma'Khail Hilliard, Blake Money, Will Hellmers, Devin Fontenot and Ty Floyd all saw time this weekend after stellar starts once again from Jaden Hill, Landon Marceaux and AJ Labas. 

The LSU bullpen went a combined 6.2 innings, allowing three runs with eight strikeouts, pretty much keeping a struggling offense within striking distance in Friday and Saturday's losses. All of that was without using who coach Paul Mainieri called possibly LSU's best bullpen pitcher in Garrett Edwards.

"I thought Ma'Khail threw the ball well, it was probably his best curveball he's had all year," Mainieri said. "Will Hellmers walked the lead off batter but I thought besides that he threw the ball well. Sunday I thought out bullpen was terrific with Ty Floyd and Fontenot. If we're limited to the first four or five guys, I feel really good about our bullpen. But you gotta be in the game for a chance to use those guys."

However, the bullpen was just one part of the equation. After mustering up just one run on nine hits through two games, Mainieri wanted to shake up the lineup. He did so in a major way by putting freshman Tre' Morgan in the leadoff spot and Dylan Crews in the three hole. It's a move many fans had been clammering to happen for weeks and it was a good first test on Sunday. 

Morgan came through with an RBI double late in the game that proved to be vital insurance runs for the Tigers. While Crews wasn't able to record a hit, he did put the ball in play multiple times and is something that Mainieri feels comfortable with.

However he didn't commit to it moving forward, saying there are many factors in play. 

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"I liked the way it looked, I thought Tre' did a good job and Tre' gives us a lot of the same qualities that Dylan does in the leadoff spot," Mainieri said. "It's something I'm going to consider going forward, I think a lot has to do with the pitcher we're facing and what the conditions are but I like the way it looked. I also liked it the way it was before to."

One of the other moves Mainieri made was replacing veteran hitter Cade Beloso with freshman Brody Drost in the designated hitter spot. It's been a struggle for Beloso, who entered the season as arguably the team's best returning hitter but just hasn't seen the results he or the team would like, batting .224 with one home run and 14 RBI.

Mainieri made the decision to sit Beloso for Sunday afternoon's game in the hopes he could regroup and start figuring out just what has gone wrong at the plate. When meeting with the media on Monday, Mainieri said he had just returned from a batting session with Beloso where they straightened some things out with his mechanics and said he had his best hitting session in months.

"There's no secret that Cade's been struggling and I've stuck with him through hell or high water all year," Mainieri said. "I'm not giving up on Cade Beloso I can assure you of that. I think he's a great competitor and I know what he's capable of doing. I feel that we're on to something and that Cade feels better about himself today than he did a couple of days ago. I don't think we can win a championship with out Beloso being a major factor in it."

It will be interesting to see where the Tigers go from here. With outfielder Giovanni DiGiacomo reaggrevating his hamstring injury, it makes sense that the Tigers will go back to Mitchell Sanford in centerfield, though Drost could also be an option if the team plays for offense. 

Because LSU's scheduled game with Tulane was cancelled, the Tigers have a few extra days to sort out any questions they may have before Friday's weekend road series against Tennessee starts up.

Photo courtesy of LSUsports.