Three games into its season, LSU has a new shortstop.
After freshman Trey Dawson struck out five times in seven at-bats and committed an error on a routine ground ball during the Tigers’ opening weekend sweep of Cincinnati, coach Paul Mainieri will move third baseman Cole Freeman to shortstop and insert freshman O’Neal Lochridge at third base “for the foreseeable future.”
The switch begins Wednesday, when LSU travels to Beaumont, Texas, for a 6 p.m. game against Lamar.
“I think Lochridge has earned the opportunity to start,” Mainieri said Tuesday. “I told Trey that he’s just holding on too tight — not playing instinctively, loose and confident like he did in the fall. He’s really struggled at the plate, obviously. ... He’s pressing something fierce, and his attribute is to be a steady infielder and make the routine plays, and the one chance he had on Saturday, he didn’t make that play.”
Dawson sat out Sunday’s 12-4 win as Freeman and Lochridge played the same positions they’re about to take over. Lochridge hit a two-run, go-ahead home run but also committed a throwing error at third base.
Freeman also committed a first-inning error on a potential 6-4-3 double play to shortstop that prolonged the inning and eventually led to two unearned runs.
A shortstop in his senior season at Lakeshore High School, Freeman played exclusively second base in his two seasons at Delgado. His starts at third base Friday and Saturday were the first two of his baseball career.
“Being up the middle is a lot more natural for me,” Freeman said. “I like being in control of the game a little bit more and always being involved. ... Any routine ball, I expect myself to make (the play). Obviously being at short, you’re going to have a lot more attempts, but it doesn’t really change my perspective of the routine plays being made.”
Lochridge began the spring as Freeman’s backup at third base, but Mainieri moved him to second early in spring camp. Lochridge was tense and often burdened himself with undue pressure, leading to defensive lapses.
There was also a mechanical flaw. Lochridge flipped his glove down as soon as a ball was hit, delaying his reaction time at a position where players often have no more than 2 or 3 seconds to make a move.
“You have to have instincts at third base, and my instincts weren’t exactly helping my mechanics,” Lochridge said. “I worked on my mechanics; I was able to put my instincts and mechanics together and really field those balls I was struggling with.”
In his first collegiate action, Lochridge singled to start the 12th inning, eventually coming around to score on Jordan Romero’s game-winning single, and he made a play at third base with no issue.
“There’s no question having him in the lineup gives us more of a threat offensively, because O’Neal can hit the ball as hard as anybody, and if he makes consistent contact, something good has a chance to happen,” Mainieri said. “We’re going to try this, and hopefully it’ll go well.”
Bain’s new breaking ball
After rehabbing shoulder surgery in the fall, Austin Bain will make his season debut Wednesday with refined mechanics and a retooled pitch.
Bain has changed his breaking ball, going from a looping 12-6 pitch to a more horizontal, power pitch. That, coupled with more consistent fastball command and a mechanical change (ensuring he doesn’t fly open in his delivery) have Bain hopeful he’ll be more consistent this season.
“(I’m) really just trying to focus on every throw during warmups,” Bain said. “Throughout the week, every throw making sure I’m doing the same fundamentals, same mechanics on every throw. … I felt really confident after my bullpen (Sunday). My breaking ball, changeup, fastball was able to locate low in the zone and now doing very well with that.”
Junior college transfer Riley Smith, a Lufkin, Texas, native who said he’ll have overflow family support Wednesday, will be the first pitcher out in relief. Smith was a strong candidate to start the first Sunday of the season, but shoulder soreness the week before the season opener delayed those plans.
“Pretty pumped,” Smith said. “It’s going to be fun. No pain at all (now). I could have pitched this weekend but (pitching coach Alan Dunn) wanted another bullpen under our belt. It went good — offspeed was good; everything I needed to work on went well. No pain, no nothing. Just getting back into the zone.”
Stallings unavailable Wednesday
After cutting his pinkie finger while washing dishes — the cut required five stitches — reliever Jesse Stallings will not be available against Lamar and his status for the weekend series against Sacramento State is up in the air, Mainieri said.
The “freak accident” happened Monday, Mainieri said. Stallings pitched the ninth inning of Saturday’s 4-0 win, allowing just one hit with one strikeout. He recorded 12 saves for LSU last season and is the Tigers’ hardest thrower out of the bullpen.
Follow Chandler Rome on Twitter @Chandler_Rome