Chris Chinea slammed a pitch over the center fielder’s head, smacked one through the left side of the infield and drubbed another up the middle.
If only those hits had come a night earlier.
Hours after a bitter loss to Nicholls State, LSU baseball players arrived at Alex Box Stadium earlier than normal Thursday. They hit without a cage for more than two hours before official practice began.
And when practice began? They simulated batting with runners in scoring position, and Chinea crushed a host of baseballs to bring home runners.
“We’re focusing on hitting with runners in scoring position,” outfielder Andrew Stevenson said. “That’s a mindset we’re putting in this weekend.”
It’s no coincidence that the Tigers (3-1) left a whopping 17 runners on base in their 6-3 loss Wednesday to Nicholls State, and that they were 4-for-19 with runners in scoring position.
Less than two weeks into the regular season and just before a three-game series against Boston College (2-2), coach Paul Mainieri is making changes to his batting order, and new hitting coach Andy Cannizaro is emphasizing a different attitude for his group of hitters.
Shortstop Alex Bregman will move from the No. 2 hole to the No. 3 spot for the weekend and beyond, and the Tigers are focusing on a more aggressive approach at the plate — especially in clutch situations.
The process began at about 2 p.m. Thursday — some 16 hours following the final pitch in the loss and about two hours before real drills began.
“Nobody’s worrying. Nobody’s panicking,” Cannizaro said. “Wanted to get them out here and let them swing it out a little bit.”
The goal? Be more aggressive and free-swinging with runners in scoring position. LSU hitters are changing their mindset with men at second and/or third.
The focus seems to be on Bregman and Conner Hale. Mainieri said coaches have adjusted the hitting stance for both Bregman and Hale.
Bregman is batting .235 and was 2-for-12 during the three-game series sweep of Kansas.
“We need some slugging. We’ve been too passive up there,” Mainieri said. “We need to get Alex Bregman knocking the fences down a little bit. We need Conner Hale not to just be happy-slapping singles but to drive the ball with more authority.”
Hale struck out with runners at second and third in the first inning Wednesday, grounded out with the bases loaded in the second and flew out with two on base in the fourth.
Bregman’s move to the No. 2 hole — he’s mostly batted third in his career — was to take some pressure off of the All-American. It only made matters worse, Mainieri said.
Bregman, the victim of a nasty hitting slide last year, began trying to hit like a two-hole hitter.
“That’s not who he is. He has to be a slugger,” the coach said.
Bregman grounded to third with the bases loaded Wednesday, a play that scored no runs for LSU. He grounded out to shortstop with a man on second a few innings later.
He admitted Thursday that he’s not happy with his swing and that he’ll change his mental approach with being slid to the No. 3 hole.
“I’m going to go up there and try to hit it hard,” he said.
Said Cannizaro: “He’s comfortable there. Get him more aggressive in the box, looking to drive the ball, impact the ball more, maybe, than move the ball around the field.”
LSU’s new batting order and approach will have an 18-inning trial run Friday. The Tigers and Eagles meet in a doubleheader because of expected thunderstorms Sunday. The series finale is set for 3 p.m. Saturday.
Southerly winds are expected over the weekend in Baton Rouge, Mainieri said. For Bregman, that means it’s time to be the aggressor in that No. 3 hole.
“I feel like if LSU is going to win, Alex needs to be the guy,” Bregman said, referring to himself. “And he’s going to be the guy.”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter: @DellengerAdv.