LSU coach Paul Mainieri calls it a “jump lead.”
It’s the two or three strides that Jake Fraley took off second base in the third inning of LSU’s game last week against Florida. Fraley stumbled in returning to second base on a pickoff move, and he was tagged out.
What happened next? Conner Hale and Kade Scivicque hit singles.
Fraley’s pickoff in the 2-1 loss to Florida in the Southeastern Conference tournament semifinals was a microcosm of the game for the Tigers.
They squandered a host of chances.
They left eight runners on base, including four in scoring position. They had nine hits — their fewest in the previous seven games — and they scored three runs or less in a game for just the ninth time in 58 tries this season.
In conclusion, said shortstop Alex Bregman, “That doesn’t happen to our team very often.”
No, not this offense — the one that’s sat atop of the nation and the SEC for much of this season.
The No. 2 overall national seed, LSU’s chance at a rebound comes in the NCAA Baton Rouge regional opener at 3 p.m. Friday against Lehigh. The Tigers (48-10) have come out swinging following their handful of poor offensive games this season.
This one comes against the Mountain Hawks (25-29), a squad that has the nation’s 164th-ranked ERA of 4.63.
“I think internally the motivation level is at an all-time high,” hitting coach Andy Cannizaro said.
That seems to be the case after each low-scoring game with this team.
In the first eight games of scoring three runs or fewer this year, LSU has followed with some trouncing victories over good teams. There was the 18-6 win over Ole Miss after a three-run game the night before and the 16-3 victory over Arkansas after scoring one run in the previous game.
In all, LSU averages eight runs and 11 hits in the games following their eight lowest run-scoring outings of 2015. The Tigers are 7-1 in those games and have outscored opponents 66-23.
“When they have a bad outing, I expect 15 runs to come after that,” starting pitcher Jared Poché said.
Fifteen might be a stretch, but LSU’s hitters know they’ll need to score. After all, Mainieri is saving his best two pitchers — freshman Alex Lange and Poché — for Saturday and Sunday of the regional. He’s unsure who will pitch Friday, and LSU could use what the coach calls “Jack Wholestaff” — a hodgepodge of relievers.
Even against a Lehigh squad with a 239 RPI, it’s a risk. Why do it? The coach is confident his offense can overcome any pitching mishaps. LSU weekend starters not named Lange or Poché have an ERA this season north of 4.50.
Bregman said the offense takes the same approach no matter who’s on the mound. But if it’s Lange (10-0, 1.94), they don’t have to score as much right? Well, Lange started that loss to Florida, pitching a scoreless seven innings before the bullpen allowed two runs.
“You can fall into that trap of feeling that way and, then again, you can score one run and lose 2-1 to Florida,” Bregman said.
See, they haven’t forgotten about that loss just yet. They can wipe it away with some bounce-back bats Friday.
“We certainly are frustrated with the way the game on Saturday took place,” Cannizaro said. “We’re ready to get back into another game, ready to get back out on the field and light up the scoreboard.”
BOUNCE BACK BATS
LSU has scored three runs or fewer in just nine of 58 games this season, including the 2-1 loss to Florida last week at the Southeastern Conference tournament. After each of the first eight outings, the Tigers came back swinging in the next game.
Runs: 66 (8.2 average per game)
Hits: 93 (11.6 average per game)
Cumulative score: 66-23
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @DellengerAdv.