For the past two weeks, Southern baseball coach Roger Cador has been experimenting with the left side of his infield.
The Jaguars got off to a terrible start on defense this season, and even as this weekend’s series against Arkansas-Pine Bluff gets under way, Southern is among the worst fielding teams in Division I.
To date, the Jaguars rank 286th among 295 programs in terms of fielding percentage (.946).
They allowed 35 unearned runs in their first 13 games, accounting for almost one-third of the teams total runs allowed at the time.
One of the biggest questions was what to do with shortstop Troy Lewis, who led the team with five errors through the first 13 games and wasn’t showing much sign of improvement.
Cador contemplated moving Lewis to the designated hitter role, removing him from the field altogether.
But after consulting with an unnamed former Southern player, Cador decided to move Lewis from shortstop to his natural third base position, then shift Robinson Mateo from second base to shortstop. Franky Montesino, the origingal third baseman, went to second.
It isn’t an experiment anymore.
“We had to do something — not only to help Troy, but more than anything, to help the team,” Cador said. “Thus far, it’s paid dividends for us. Mateo has played flawless and Lewis has played relatively well. He’s going to play even better at third now as he gets more games.”
Cador declined to name the former player he consulted following the Jaguars’ weekend series against Prairie View, but said it was mainly to confirm the idea he and his coaching staff already had.
Southern’s issues with errors haven’t vanished in the five games since the realignment — they’ve committed eight during that span — but the Jaguars are seeing a marked improvement in the play on the left side of the infield.
If nothing else, Cador said he has seen a drastic uptick in Lewis’ confidence level, and that has carried over to his offensive performance.
Before Lewis’ move, Cador said he would “take his glove to bat and his bat to play defense.” In other words, he would carry his mistakes with him and try to do too much to make up for them.
But Lewis has reversed that tendency since then.
On top of Lewis moving to third base, he also made the jump to the leadoff position in the batting order. Cador also believes the move to third well help save Lewis’ arm for when he steps to the mound as the team’s closer.
Lewis said he felt confident enough at shortstop, but agreed third base is a better fit.
“It’s amazing how just making that move helped his confidence,” Cador said. “You never expect it to be that quick. I expected him to do better, but not as quick.
Lewis and Mateo were reluctant to credit the defensive reshuffling as the sole reason for the Jaguars’ turnaround this season — including their current four-game win streak — but they did find it hard to ignore.
Even the lone loss, a ninth-inning 9-8 defeat at Nicholls State, has shown the Jaguars what they’re capable of, and the team is just now starting to have fun.
“I don’t know if it was a coincidence, because we definitely got better from the moves (Cador) made,” Lewis said. ”But I think we all started to see around the time we made the changes that we’re a good team. We were just young, and now we have things starting to come together.”
Lewis will get another chance to prove his worth at third base this weekend when the Jaguars (7-11) host Arkansas-Pine Bluff (4-15) at 6 p.m. Friday, then play a doubleheader at noon Saturday.
Pitcher J’Markus George will start Friday’s game, followed by Daniel Franklin and Josh Sparks on Saturday.