LSU outfielder Mark Laird might be getting his second wind as the regular season winds down.
The freshman has six hits in his last eight at-bats over the past three games. After entering a suspended game at Texas A&M last Saturday and getting a hit in his only at-bat, Laird went 3-for-4 in the series finale, then went 2-for-3 against UNO on Tuesday.
That gave him back-to-back multi-hit games after having just one multi-hit game in the previous 27. During that stretch, his average dropped from .320 to .271.
“This game is a hard game to play, and he’s a freshman,” Tigers coach Paul Mainieri said. “He’s played more baseball this year than he’s probably ever played in his life in one year. You get to (196) at-bats. He’s probably a little bit tired, dealing with failure in college that’s probably much different than what he experienced in high school. So being able to do deal with all of that stuff I’m sure has been a challenge for him.
“I’m really proud of him. I just think he’s ready to go for us.”
Laird, who has played in 48 games, said the most games he’d ever played in one season was in the low 30s, but he’s used to having a heavy workload, having bounced between baseball and football at Ouachita Christian in Monroe.
“I think that helped tune me up for this,” Laird said. “I’ve been staying focused and trying to stay confident throughout the year. It’s a lot more games and a lot more work. It’s my first year. I’m still excited and I think it’s coming around.”
Hitting coach Javi Sanchez said Laird had gotten into a habit of letting “his head drift forward toward the pitcher’s mound,” and he’s been working with Laird “to keep his head more still.”
Even though the coaches want Laird to hit the ball on the ground the other way so he can use his exceptional speed to get on base, Sanchez said it was a good sign when Laird twice pulled pitches into right field for singles at A&M.
“When he’s hitting the ball well,” Sanchez said, “he’s going to be pulling the ball properly without even trying.”
Katz in home-run doubt
First baseman Mason Katz, who tied a career high with 13 home runs in the first 28 games, has not homered in the past 25 games.
“It’s weird,” Katz said. “This is one of the longest streaks without a home run I’ve ever been on. It’s weird that it came in my best home run season. I can’t really try to do it, because if I try more to do it, it will never happen. They’re going to come soon. My swing is starting to feel really, really good. I’m starting to hit balls hard.
“One of these days I’m just bound to run into one. I’m bound to accidentally hit a pop-up and the wind is blowing out and takes it out to left field. It’s going to come. I know I’m not done hitting home runs this year. I hope I’m saving them all for the postseason.”
Double duty for Fury
Mainieri had already cleared his bench when he chose to give shortstop Alex Bregman the top of the ninth inning off Tuesday night. So he had reliever Nate Fury — who also played infield in high school and junior college — play second as Casey Yocom moved from second to short.
Fury, who had gotten the final two outs in the top of the eighth, had to borrow Katz’s infielder’s glove for the ninth.
With one out and a runner on first, Fury took a throw from Yocum for a force at second, then fielded a grounder and threw to first for the final out.
“I felt like I was going to boot that last ball,” Fury said, “then, when I caught it, I thought I was going to throw it away.”
Settling for second
With three Southeastern Conference games remaining against Ole Miss, the Tigers already have won two more league games than they did last year when they won the overall title with a 19-11 record. But they’ve already been eliminated from the overall race because East champion Vanderbilt is 24-2.
“It really is amazing, and you just have to tip your hat to Vanderbilt and what they’ve accomplished this year,” Mainieri said. “It’s been remarkable. We’ve had a remarkable year, and yet we can’t even sniff the SEC tile.
“We have a chance to finish with single-digit losses in the regular season. That’s pretty amazing stuff — uncharted waters, really. We couldn’t do anything about Vanderbilt because we didn’t play them. I’m just really proud of my guys and what they’ve been able to accomplish.”