In somewhat of a hitting skid, Jake Fraley has spent the past week having daily meetings with LSU baseball head coach Paul Mainieri and hitting coach Andy Cannizaro.
The message from the coaches to a kid making hard contact but not getting hits: Don’t change a thing. Don’t adjust your stance; don’t tweak your hands; don’t switch your approach.
When Fraley opened Sunday’s game by grounding out to first base, LSU’s leadoff hitter was hitless in his past 16 at-bats.
“Keep playing,” he said, “like Jake plays.”
Fraley’s bat — and nearly everyone else’s — came to life as the Tigers stomped Ole Miss 18-6 on Sunday to claim their opening series of the Southeastern Conference season, just a night after a head-shaking performance at the plate.
Alex Bregman, Jared Foster and Conner Hale all had home runs, and the Tigers (18-2, 2-1) won a fifth consecutive series over the Rebels (10-9, 1-2), continuing an incredible streak:
LSU hasn’t lost a home series to Ole Miss since 1982.
Mainieri’s team scored its most runs against Ole Miss since 1936, and Fraley broke from that 0-for-16 slump with a two-hit, two-RBI day.
The Tigers had their most hits (19) in an SEC game since May 2013 and their most runs in an SEC game since April, a stretch of 23 games. They had a five-run first inning, chasing Ole Miss starter Sam Smith seven batters in to quickly shake off Saturday’s sluggish outing, a 5-3 loss to the Rebels in 14 innings.
The Tigers were held scoreless for the final 10 innings Saturday, stranded the winning run at third base twice in extra innings and left the bases loaded in the 14th. On Sunday, they scored in six of their eight innings.
Mainieri’s message to his players after Saturday: “You could choose one of two routes,” he said he told them. “You could sit back and feel sorry for yourself that we lost a game that maybe we should have won. Or you could come out and realize that you can’t do anything about yesterday and play hard today. They took that to heart.”
Freshman pitcher Jake Godfrey (4-0, 2.33 ERA) labored through a five-hit start that lasted 5.2 innings and included four walks. Doug Norman, moved to the bullpen, allowed a hit and walked one in his one inning, but he left the bases loaded in the seventh.
The bats led Mainieri’s bunch to a 10-1 lead by the fifth inning and a scintillating series finale victory after blowing a 3-2 lead in the ninth Saturday.
“It was good to bounce back and refocus,” Foster said.
LSU batted .588 with runners in scoring position, batted .463 as a team and had 10 players get at least one hit. Six players had multiple-hit games, including three hits each by Bregman, designated hitter Kade Scivicque and Hale.
Fraley’s two singles — one in the second and a two-run hit in the fifth — provided relief for a squad that counts so much on its No. 1 batter. Mainieri raved last week that Fraley was the perfect leadoff hitter and that he would remain in that spot.
But then he went 0-for-16, many on hard-hit balls that weren’t falling. Before his second-inning line-drive single to center Sunday, Fraley’s previous hit came a week ago in LSU’s Sunday win over Nebraska in Houston.
To make matters worse, he went hitless in three at-bats in extra innings Saturday. They came with a combined four players in scoring position in a tie game. In the 10th and 12th, he stranded runners at third, and his fly out in foul territory in the 14th came with the bases loaded.
“That ball he hit in the 14th inning yesterday could have dropped down the line and we would have scored and he would have been the hero,” Bregman said. “The kid has swung the bat really well all weekend. It didn’t really show up that way in the stat sheet.”
“Last two weeks or so, I’ve been hitting line drives at people,” Fraley said. “Finally, I got a couple to fall today.”
Everyone else did, too, and Godfrey “grinded” through another sometimes-shaky performance.
Four of Ole Miss’ first five batters reached safely. Godfrey walked two, a bugaboo of his. The freshman from Illinois has 15 walks in 27 innings. He finished with three strikeouts and threw 96 pitches in his final home start before his first road start of the season at Arkansas (9-8, 0-3) next weekend.
LSU turned two double plays and got another highlight-reel catch from center fielder Andrew Stevenson — an over-the-shoulder, on-the-run grab at the warning track in center field. His diving grab Saturday was No. 7 on the top-10 plays on ESPN’s “SportsCenter.”
Meanwhile, Fraley’s patience paid off.
“I didn’t want him to start pressing and trying to change or do something different. Stay with his plan, stay with his approach,” Cannizaro said. “It’s tough as a player because it’s such a results-oriented game. Today he found some holes.”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter: @DellengerAdv.