LSU taking ‘closer by committee’ approach in NCAA postseason _lowres

Advocate file photo by JOHN OUBRE -- LSU coach Paul Mainieri walks to the mound with catcher Kade Scivicque to talk with reliever Parker Bugg during a game against Georgia last season at Alex Box Stadium.

If LSU has one true “closer” heading into the super regional weekend against Louisiana-Lafayette, then Paul Mainieri isn’t saying who.

Since the beginning of the Southeastern Conference tournament, though, sophomore right-hander Parker Bugg has gotten the call in the ninth inning twice, picking up saves against Auburn and UNC Wilmington.

For now, the role is open for a number of relievers as the Tigers (51-10) prepare to meet the Ragin’ Cajuns (42-21) in a best-of-three series starting Saturday.

“I don’t think we’re going to designate any one guy as the closer, and then all of a sudden Zac Person is pitching or Russell Reynolds is pitching or Jesse Stallings is pitching,” Mainieri said.

Bugg said whoever gets the ball in the ninth inning will likely depend on the game situation. Scenarios have recently favored Bugg. So call it a “closer by committee” for the time being — which Bugg said could be a positive.

“I think it will benefit us because it isn’t just one guy,” Bugg said. “We do have the confidence to throw two, three or four guys in that spot.”

Offensive concerns

On paper, the Tigers’ offensive numbers in their final two regional games look like a concern. LSU collected 18 hits in the two games against UNC Wilmington, scoring only four runs.

But Mainieri doesn’t seem too worried about last week’s production.

“You have to remember now that we’re in the postseason, and these teams are in the NCAA tournament for a reason,” Mainieri said. “They’re all champions. And great teams are great teams because they generally have great pitching staffs. You’re going to face better pitching in the NCAA tournament than you typically would throughout the year, so runs are going to be harder to come by.”

Junior shortstop Alex Bregman went 0-for-7 with a walk in the two contests against UNC Wilmington. He said he’s just looking forward to digging back in at the plate against UL-Lafayette.

“We definitely didn’t swing it like we were capable of,” Bregman said, “but we’re excited to go out there and get another shot this weekend.”

Latz progress ‘still slow’

Highly touted freshman pitcher Jake Latz’s rehabilitation from a stress reaction in his elbow is “still slow,” pitching coach Alan Dunn said this week.

Latz has returned home near Chicago, where he continues a throwing program. Dunn and the staff hope he can be healthy enough to join a summer ball team at some point in June or July.

“I don’t care about the results in terms of stats,” Dunn said. “I want him to go out and see hitters and let himself build his arm back up. We’ve been communicating via text. He’s keeping me updated on his status. Hopefully we get him out quick (to summer ball). If we do, that’d be a real big boost coming into the fall. That’s my goal.”

Ideally, Dunn wants to see him on a summer team for a month. Some summer leagues don’t end until mid-August.

Latz, who turned down nearly $1 million in last year’s draft to come to school, did not pitch this season after the elbow flared up during preseason practice.

Clutch Chinea

The numbers tell the full story: Junior first baseman Chris Chinea loves to hit in pressure situations. With two outs, Chinea leads the Tigers with a whopping .403 batting average, collecting 31 hits in 77 at-bats.

When runners are in scoring position, the Miami native ranks third on the team in batting average with a .382 mark, picking up 34 hits in 89 plate appearances.

Chinea drove in two of LSU’s four runs in two games last week against UNCW.

LSU hitting coach Andy Cannizaro certainly enjoys watching his pupil prosper.

“He gives quality at-bats,” Cannizaro said. “He never gives away an at-bat. He stays on the barrel, and he’s so big and strong and physical. He swings at strikes with an aggressive approach and looks to impact the baseball. And his two-strike approach is phenomenal.”

Watch practice

LSU and Louisiana-Lafayette will practice at Alex Box Stadium on Friday, and both practices are open to the public.

The Tigers practice at 1 p.m. and the Cajuns go at 2:30 p.m.

Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter: @DellengerAdv.