Earlier this week inside the LSU baseball offices, coach Paul Mainieri and hitting coach Eddie Smith analyzed video of junior Cade Beloso.
For two years, Beloso was one of LSU’s most productive hitters, a freshman starter who batted .313 during the abbreviated 2020 campaign. But he has struggled this spring.
After going 0 for 4 last Saturday as the designated hitter against Mississippi State, a game that made his batting average .224, Beloso sat for the second time this season.
“I felt after Saturday night he was in such a rut that he wasn't ready to give us anything on Sunday,” Mainieri said.
Who's starting, how to watch and what to watch for when LSU plays at Tennessee on Friday night.
Mainieri knew Beloso’s issues didn’t stem from a lack of confidence or preparation, so after the series, Mainieri compared tape from Beloso’s freshman year to this one. Having coached Beloso longer than Smith, who joined the staff after Beloso’s freshman season, Mainieri said he noticed “several things.” He pointed them out to Smith.
“His hands position was so much more relaxed as a freshman,” Mainieri said. “This year, he seemed like he was squeezing the bat so hard and his muscles were so tense. He was trying to do so well so bad, but your muscles don't move as quickly when you get so tense.”
The coaches brought Beloso into the film room and showed him the comparison. He agreed with their assessment. Raising his hands had caused Beloso to wrap the bat around his head during his follow through, which reduced bat speed. Beloso also thought he needed to open his stance to let himself rotate faster as he swung.
After watching the video, the coaches took Beloso onto the field for batting practice Monday morning. He used the tweaks as he also faced live pitching, and Mainieri returned to his office saying Beloso “had the best batting practice he's had in several months.”
Landon Marceaux will pitch Friday nights moving forward, moving Jaden Hill to the Saturday slot.
“I haven't really felt like myself this year,” Beloso said. “Coach Mainieri knows that, too. So we tried to fix that as soon as possible.”
If successful, the changes could again make Beloso one of the most productive hitters on the team, possibly reverting him back to the player who hit 10 home runs his freshman season.
Beloso doesn’t seem far off. Despite his low batting average, Beloso has only struck out five times this spring, easily the least amongst starters, and drawn 15 walks, the second-most on the team. He has put the ball in play 93% of his at-bats entering LSU’s series this weekend against Tennessee.
“What looks like a rough start on the stat sheet definitely isn't a rough start if you're watching him hit,” freshman first baseman Tre’ Morgan said. “He consistently goes up there and drives balls hard. You see him come into the dugout laughing because he can't catch a break. He'll hit a ball 105 mph right to the right fielder because that's where he's positioned.”
Receiving his first starts this season, Collier Cranford had 17 assists over three games.
Though Beloso sees the batting average glaring at him from the scoreboard every time he hits, he said he hasn’t felt discouraged. He understands baseball ebbs and flows, bringing bad stretches and good ones. This happens to be one of the bad ones. He tries to remain confident.
“You've got to know that eventually you're going to get out of this,” Beloso said. “Eventually, it's all going to be OK. The law of averages evens everything out, no doubt about that. I'm going to keep swinging until I get out of this.”
More than anything, Beloso wants to provide for his teammates. It upsets him when he leaves a runner in scoring position, and as the most experienced hitter on the roster, LSU needs him to produce in the middle of the lineup. Otherwise, a young team will have to rely on even more underclassmen.
That’s why Mainieri will stick with Beloso as long as he can. The coach would have liked to see Beloso apply the mechanical changes in a game before this weekend, and he might use other designated hitters against Tennessee, but Mainieri said he wants Beloso’s veteran presence in the lineup.
“I can assure you I'm not giving up on Cade Beloso,” Mainieri said. “I don't think we can win a championship without Cade Beloso being a major factor in it. Let's hope that he turns it around.”