LAFAYETTE — This may have been impossible to fathom just a few weeks ago, but there was Jake Slaughter’s name atop the LSU lineup Wednesday night before a midweek road game at UL-Lafayette.
Yes, the very same Jake Slaughter who started the season with one hit in his first 23 at-bats, giving him an anemic .043 average through the first two weekends this season.
“It can be a really tough game sometimes,” LSU hitting coach Sean Ochinko said. “You do everything right, you square the ball up and you’ve got nothing to show for it.
“It gets frustrating. You’ve got to understand that’s how the game is. Things will balance themselves out throughout the season.”
It did not take too long. Slaughter rewarded LSU for its patience by going on a tear last week, going 8 for 19 at the plate as LSU won four times in a five-game week. In three of those five games, Slaughter had multiple hits.
“Jake came through with some big hits for us,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “I think he’s turned the corner, and I think he’s going to do well.”
When Mainieri watched Slaughter early this season, he saw the loud outs off Slaughter’s bat, the missiles that settled into and outfielder’s glove rather than rattling off the wall for extra bases.
Mainieri did not lose faith in his sophomore third baseman during that rough stretch, though the coach watched him closely to make sure Slaughter did not lose faith in himself.
Ochinko helped make sure that did not happen.
“Sean Ochinko has done a tremendous job with Jake,” Mainieri said. “Managing Jake is as much managing his mental aspect as it is the mechanics and that type of thing.
“He’s just such an emotional, passionate kid. You don’t want to see him get down on himself when things don’t go well. He needs constant encouragement, and Sean is really good at that with him.”
There were some mechanical aspects Ochinko wanted Slaughter to clean up. Interestingly, LSU actually encouraged Slaughter to look for pitches to pull to get his swing in a groove.
But for the most part, Ochinko wanted to make sure Slaughter’s confidence did not dip too low during the slow start.
Hitting, Ochinko said, “is all about confidence.”
“That’s the No. 1 thing,” he said. “It’s not about hitting mechanics, this or that, it’s about a player’s confidence.”
As a freshman, Slaughter allowed himself to get visibly frustrated when he struggled. His passion worked against him in those instances, and he eventually landed in a rough cycle and never truly dug out of it.
Slaughter has grown since last season, Ochinko said. That is evident when Slaughter speaks about his rough start.
“It’s just baseball,” Slaughter said. “It’s why you’ve got to take it day by day and not focus on results, because it’s crazy; there’s a lot of luck involved. Over a long period of time, it all evens out.”