After searching all season for a leadoff hitter, LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri had a hunch about the fourth player to get that opportunity in his team’s first 30 games.
Actually, it was more than a hunch.
Mainieri remembered how he watched junior-college transfer Sean McMullen, a left-handed hitter, hit home runs off former LSU pitcher Jordan Rittiner, a southpaw, when they were in high school in New Orleans.
So when Mainieri didn’t get the production he was looking for from the first spot in his batting order, he gave McMullen a shot against right-handers in the final two games of the Missouri series last weekend.
When McMullen went 3-for-7 with a walk and two RBIs, he was given the litmus test: hitting against Kentucky’s trio of lefties in the Southeastern Conference series that started Friday in Alex Box Stadium.
It was actually the second chance for McMullen, a former Brother Martin High School standout who led off the past two seasons for Joe Scheuermann at Delgado Community College.
Mainieri gave him a shot in fall intrasquad games, thinking he would feel more comfortable there after struggling in the middle of the order.
“He started swinging the bat a little better, but he just didn’t maintain it enough to open the season as a starting player,” Mainieri said this week. “As time has gone on, he’s settled in and become more comfortable. I just have a sense that that kid is ready to blossom and become a real asset for us.”
McMullen has proved Mainieri right in the first two games against No. 9 Kentucky.
He was 1-for-3 with a sacrifice fly Friday night, with the hit and RBI coming against left-handers in an 11-1 rout of the Wildcats.
Saturday night, he sparked two productive innings with his first two-double game in LSU’s 9-1 victory.
McMullen keyed a four-run third inning with a leadoff double to right field, and his ringing double to left-center in the fourth drove in the Tigers’ sixth run, which was more than enough for starter Ryan Eades, and also drew a walk.
“I’m really just getting at-bats and seeing pitches,” McMullen said. “I’m comfortable up there, and I’m not feeling any pressure.
“I’m just trying to play my own game. I’m just as comfortable hitting lefties as I am against right-handers.”
For the two games, McMullen is 3-for-6 with two doubles, two RBIs and two runs — all against lefties.
He’s also been hit by a pitch twice and gotten on base six times, which is exactly what a leadoff hitter is supposed to do.
“I feel like Sean is ready for it all. … I think he’s got his feet firmly on the ground,” Mainieri said. “The game has slowed down for him. He’s much more sure of himself.
“I can see every day in practice he’s starting to carry himself with more confidence. In batting practice, his bat is a little quicker and he’s making consistent contact. I just had a gut feeling that maybe it’s time.”