Catching LSU’s NCAA tournament regional games will come on an “earn-it” basis.
Though he and his coaching staff discussed numerous scenarios Tuesday, coach Paul Mainieri said he was still unsure how he would juggle Mike Papierski and Jordan Romero in advance of the Baton Rouge regional opener against Utah Valley at 2 p.m. Friday.
“I’m not sure what we’re going to do,” Mainieri said. “We’re going to see how these three days of practice go. Obviously Jordan had a tough time in the game against Tennessee defensively, but he’s also been struggling offensively. Pap’s been doing better and Pap swings the bat, especially well right-handed. I’m not exactly sure what we’re going to do. I’m sure we’re going to count on both of them.”
Romero started the team’s Southeastern Conference tournament opener against Tennessee, a 5-4 win when the Volunteers stole six bases and blew a late 4-0 lead. The LSU-Eunice transfer struck out in his only two at-bats and was lifted for Papierski in the eighth inning.
Papierski caught all but one of the Tigers’ remaining 32 innings in the tournament, leading to several commendations from Mainieri on his lock-down defense. He had three RBIs in the 6-2 win against Mississippi State, including his first hit since April 22 — a two-run single to break open a two-run game.
“Sitting out and just watching, seeing what happens, I learned to separate those two parts of the game,” Papierski said. “If your offense isn’t doing well, you still have to play defense. You’re a huge role back there as a catcher. You can still impact the game catching, blocking balls and keeping people on the same base.”
Romero had a pinch-hit, go-ahead RBI single in LSU’s 5-3, 14-inning win against Florida, which snapped an 0-for-18 skid for the team’s leader in home runs.
“It continues to be an ‘earn-it’ business,” Mainieri said. “The guys that earn it are the guys that are going to be in there, and that can change from day to day, from weekend to weekend. You can’t stop believing in yourself; you just have to keep working and if your team is counting on you, you have to take that attitude.”
O’Neal Lochridge, the Tigers’ starting third baseman heading into SEC play, will require a full torso cast for three months to fix the stress fracture in his back. He will not play summer baseball, Mainieri said.
Lochridge took hold of the third base job before suffering a flare-up of a stress fracture before LSU’s conference opener against Alabama. He rehabilitated throughout the season and, at one juncture, participated fully in pregame batting practice and infield drills.
“They just think that maybe him trying to push himself to get back may have delayed the full healing,” Mainieri said. “The best, most prudent thing to do is know he’s not going to play this summer, immobilize and let it heal.”
Lochridge finished his freshman season hitting .229 in 12 games, with two home runs and three doubles.
No word on pitching plans
In an effort to avoid three days worth of Utah Valley scouting, Mainieri said he will announce his pitching rotation Thursday, adding it would be Jared Poché, Alex Lange or Caleb Gilbert starting Friday’s game against the Wolverines.
“Quite frankly, I don’t think there’s any need to give an announcement at this point so that our opponents can scout our pitching for the next three days,” Mainieri said. “So we’re just going to wait until Thursday.”