Giovanni DiGiacomo sprung from a loose huddle and jogged into center field Tuesday night. He tapped the glove of sophomore Mitchell Sanford, the starter against Southeastern Louisiana, and waited for pregame warmups.
Dressed out for the second straight game, DiGiacomo fielded grounders and fly balls, lightly using the hamstring he strained three weeks ago. He returned to the dugout with the rest of the outfielders and sipped from a blue Powerade bottle, waiting there until he entered as a defensive replacement in the seventh inning.
Unavailable since opening weekend, DiGiacomo received medical clearance and appeared in his first game since Feb. 21. Coach Paul Mainieri had said the junior center fielder would try to sprint full speed Monday, and if that went well, LSU’s athletic trainer might clear DiGiacomo for Tuesday’s game.
DiGiacomo played three innings in center field. He recorded the final out. His spot in the batting order never arrived, and Mainieri would have used a pinch-hitter anyway because DiGiacomo hadn't faced live pitching since his injury.
"I wanted to get him out there and play a couple innings," Mainieri said. "I wasn't going to let him hit."
Who's starting, how to watch and what to watch for when LSU and Southeastern Louisiana play Tuesday night.
DiGiacomo’s return presented a decision for Mainieri about who to play in center field moving forward. DiGiacomo started LSU’s first two games, but he strained his hamstring while catching a fly ball opening weekend against Air Force. DiGiacomo, the fastest player on the team, was batting .333 (2 for 6) with a triple and one strikeout.
"Even though Giovanni is going to be tabbed 'ready to play,' " Mainieri said Monday, "he's not going to go right in there."
Since DiGiacomo’s injury, LSU has used Sanford and freshman Brody Drost in center field with junior Drew Bianco as a defensive replacement. Drost appeared to assert himself at the position, but he went 3 for 25 over the past eight games with 12 strikeouts as teams peppered him with off-speed pitches, prompting LSU to start Sanford in the series finale against UTSA.
LSU’s bullpen blew three leads against UTSA, forcing the Tigers to make exhilarating comebacks.
Sanford, who drove a leadoff single in the 10th inning as a pinch-hitter the night before, blasted a two-run home run Sunday afternoon, the first of his career. He also recorded three putouts, reacting well to deep fly balls.
Sanford batted fifth against Southeastern as LSU prepares to face a left-handed pitcher Friday night against Mississippi State. He finished 2 for 4 with an RBI.
"Mitchell hits left-handed pitchers really well," Mainieri said. "I was looking ahead a little bit. I thought Mitchell would be the best matchup against their Friday night starter."
LSU now has a surplus of options in center field, all with different skill sets. DiGiacomo offers the best defense because of his range and speed, but LSU worried during preseason practice about his consistency as a hitter and he hasn't faced live pitching in weeks. Sanford and Drost have more power, but they don't provide the same level of defense.
Cade Doughty and Jordan Thompson hit a combined seven home runs, including three crucial ones in extra innings against UTSA.
“And they all are left-handed hitters,” Mainieri said, counting out the possibility of a situational platoon. “That's the thing.”
Depending on the weather, Mainieri hoped to let DiGiacomo face live pitching Wednesday.
"I'm not sure what we'll do there yet," Mainieri said. "I've got a lot of confidence in Mitchell Sanford and Brody Drost and Drew Bianco's a really good outfielder as well. There's no rush in getting Gio back in there. We've been winning with these other guys, and they've been doing a great job, too."