After a historic 1-8 start to SEC play, it's hard not for the early losing to mess with the players heads. The program from top to bottom isn't getting the results it expected after a long fall and spring camp of hard work.
It's the worst start for this team in conference play since 1969 and coach Paul Mainieri said while it's taken its toll on the players and the coaches, the Tigers (17-11, 1-8) are more determined than ever to figure out what's wrong.
"It's hard to enjoy it when you're not having a lot of success," Mainieri said. "It's easy to sit back and say 'let's have fun out there' but when you put in a lot of work, you wanna reap the benefits of that hard work. That's what we're used to. It's why winning is so important. it gives credibility to what you preach to them as a coach."
The offense in particular has been mostly down through three weeks of SEC play. LSU was able to muster up just four hits in each of the three losses to Vanderbilt, scoring a total of four runs en route to the series sweep of the No. 2 Commodores.
In talking with players after the game, they were at a loss for words with the uneven start at the plate in conference play. The main message from Dylan Crews and Cade Doughty over the weekend was the players are going to keep their heads down, come to work and try to figure out where some of these issues stem from.
A lot of it has to do with the high number of strikeouts and runners left on base. After 38 strikeouts and 25 runners left on base against Tennessee, LSU struck out a total 30 times and left 22 runners on base in three games against the Commodores.
"To mount any kind of significant offense, you're gonna have to do more than that," Mainieri said. "Out of our eight losses, we've had three one-run losses and two two-run losses. Your season gets defined by how you do in the one-run and two-run games. In a lot of ways we've been competitive but we haven't been getting it done in the close games which is what you have to do."
It was announced Monday that the elbow injury starting pitcher Jaden Hill suffered in a Friday loss to the Commodores will keep him out for the rest of the season. The team could elect to go with either freshmen Will Hellmers or Garrett Edwards as the third starter as both have starting experience this season for the Tigers in non-conference action.
The loss of Hill is a signifcant blow but there is some positive news on the horizon for the Tigers.
Mainieri said that outfielder Giovanni DiGiacomo will be back in the lineup against McNeese State on Tuesday, bringing some level of stability to the outfield. DiGiacomo has been hampered all season with a lingering hamstring injury but getting a veteran hitter back will be a much needed addition for this offense.
Opening the season with No. 2 Mississippi State, No. 13 Tennessee and No. 1 Vanderbilt of course is a challenging start to the conference schedule. With the big hole the Tigers have dug, there is quite literally zero margin for error. Starting with Kentucky this weekend, the Tigers need to get back in the win column or it could very well an unsalvageable season.
"We've gotta roll up our sleeves and keep working to chip away," Mainieri said. "We're at the midway point, now let's see what we can do the rest of the way. We've obviously dug ourselves a big hole and we're not going to make up 10 games in one weekend. Let's just take it one day at a time this weekend and experience some success."
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