With two outs, or even with two strikes, Jordan Romero notices a trend.
“Sometimes,” the LSU catcher said, “pitchers will kind of sit back. You have to stay on top of them.
“What I like to do is keep them focused once they get two outs or two strikes to keep making good pitches.”
Such a sequence summarizes Romero’s recent duty. He’s caught LSU’s past three games — including the final two against Mississippi State — attempting to gauge each pitcher’s mound manner while mixing his responsibilities to manage their wildly different emotions and attitudes.
“As the game goes on, when they need a mound visit, or when they need a tap on the butt or kind of getting on them a little bit,” Romero said. “That’s been the biggest thing for me, just figuring out the right situation to do that.”
Romero’s work Saturday with Alex Lange in a 2-1 loss to Mississippi State, which drew a glowing review from Paul Mainieri, now means he’s caught each of LSU’s weekend starters for a full game.
Before his team’s departure for Oxford, Mississippi, on Wednesday, Mainieri remained noncommittal on the catcher battle with Michael Papierski, but reiterated Romero’s noticeable improvements receiving the ball — beginning with Lange’s 99-pitch complete game against the Bulldogs.
“Sometimes because (Romero) has a wider body, it’s almost like a canvas behind the target that he’s given,” Mainieri said. “And pitchers like to throw to a good, clear target like that. Sometimes that has an effect. He blocked a couple balls that were really tough the other day with Lange. I don’t really like the pitchers to think too much about who they’re throwing to, because whoever I put in the lineup they’re going to throw to.
“But I don’t know if it was a coincidence or maybe Jordan just caught him better, but he pitched a great game. I’m really proud of Jordan, he’s really done some tremendous things.”
Romero’s resurgence hasn’t come without a bump. Mainieri said he was “pretty hard” on the LSU-Eunice transfer after comments following the Auburn series, where Romero surmised “quite frankly, I think I hit better when I’m catching” as opposed to being the team’s designated hitter.
“That’s not the right mindset, you have to have the right attitude,” Mainieri said following Sunday’s game against Mississippi State. “(Romero’s) not a bad kid, don’t get me wrong, but he needed to get that out of his mind. But the reality is, when I look at the stats, I see he does hit better when he catches. And so I do think there is something to being into the flow of the game and not cold coming off the bench all the time.”
Romero’s started 21 games this season, 14 at catcher and seven at designated hitter. He’s hitting .333 with five of his six home runs in those 21 games behind the plate, compared to just .173 with no extra-base hits at designated hitter.
Pregame routines patently differ when Romero catches. After the team finishes its infield/outfield drill, if he’s catching, Romero motors to the bullpen to catch the starter’s warmup before focusing on those aforementioned intricacies of the pitcher he’s receiving.
“You’re not thinking as much about your first at-bat, you just get right into it,” Romero said. “That’s really the difference … That’s probably one thing I’ve had to work on when I DH. Not thinking too far ahead, just taking it one pitch at a time.”
Lange was Romero’s final weekend pitcher with which to work. At the beginning of the season, Mainieri preferred returnee Papierski to catch the reigning National Freshman of the Year, who is known to spike and bury a bevy of breaking balls that are burdensome to block.
Romero allowed zero wild pitches.
“You have to keep (Lange) motivated and focused the whole time,” Romero said. “Stay on him. When I block a ball, he motivates me by ‘Great block, great block’ and it goes back and forth. When he throws a great pitch it’s ‘At a boy.’ ”
Mainieri was quick say he hasn’t given up on Papierski and would evaluate the position on a game-by-game basis, ascertaining which catcher would give LSU a better chance to win.
“And for the last three days,” Mainieri said, “I thought it’s been Jordan.”
Follow Chandler Rome on Twitter @Chandler_Rome