Paul Mainieri likened Saturday’s 8-2 loss against Ole Miss, in which LSU played without Jordan Romero, to Les Miles’ football team playing without Leonard Fournette.
That soon won’t be the case.
Touching on an array of topics at his monthly Luncheon at L’Auberge Casino and Hotel, Mainieri named Romero his everyday starting catcher and cleanup hitter — the first such declaration from Mainieri, who said before last weekend’s Ole Miss series that he would evaluate Romero and opening night starter Michael Papierski on a game-by-game basis.
“It was pretty clear that (Romero)’s totally outplayed Michael Papierski and he deserves to be in there,” Mainieri said following his luncheon. “He’s a force for us. His defense has improved tremendously. ...
“Jordan has worked so hard, has improved so much with his receiving skills. I don’t think he’s a totally polished guy, there’s still a lot of room for improvement, but I do think that he’s improved enough defensively and offensively; he’s made such an impact that he has to be in the lineup everyday.”
Before his ejection in the fifth inning of Friday’s 6-3 win against the Rebels, Romero, who also had to serve a one-game suspension Saturday, had six of the team’s 12 RBIs in Oxford.
Romero’s .340 average is second on the team, and his 1.049 on-base plus slugging leads the team. His .298 ISO — an isolated power metric that calculates a player’s raw power — is the team’s highest by nearly 40 points.
Saturday’s game was Romero’s fifth straight start at catcher, not counting the suspension, and Romero’s second straight game catching for Alex Lange.
In his two times pitching to Romero, Lange has thrown two complete games and just one wild pitch. Papierski caught Lange in the final four innings of Friday’s game following Romero’s ejection.
“He’s always had a great arm, and he’s always had good leadership qualities about him and he’s a physical presence,” Mainieri said. “But he’s dropped a lot of pitches in his time. But he’s improving on that. He still drops them here and there, but it’s better and he’s blocked some balls. Quite frankly, Alex Lange has pitched his two best games, and I’m not so sure it’s a coincidence it’s been with Jordan Romero as the starting catcher.”
Hitting .238 after the weekend, Papierski started Saturday’s game in Romero’s absence, finishing 0-for-3 before Mainieri lifted him for pinch hitter Brody Wofford in the eighth inning.
Each of Papierski’s first two at-bats came with runners in scoring position with no outs. He responded with an infield popup and strikeout.
“This is not so much of an indictment on Mike as it is kind of a coronation of Jordan,” Mainieri said.
Rotation ‘to be adjusted’
Though he declined to reveal specifics, Mainieri said he and his staff will “make adjustments” to the starting rotation for their series against Arkansas this weekend at Alex Box Stadium.
Mainieri did not say who will be involved in the shakeup, but the coach said he met with No. 3 starter John Valek III on Monday, telling the Akron transfer he feels “the book is out” on him.
After beginning the season 6-1 and solidifying the No. 3 spot, Valek lasted just 3.2 innings combined in his past two starts, surrendering 10 hits and seven earned runs.
Following his 1.1-inning stint against Ole Miss on Saturday, Valek blamed his struggles on a lack of command and falling behind in too many counts, calling the two starts “unacceptable.”
Mainieri said he will announce the weekend rotation Thursday.
‘Not optimistic’ about Lochridge
Though O’Neal Lochridge continues to rehabilitate the lingering stress fracture in his back, Mainieri said he’s “not optimistic” the St. Thomas More graduate will return this season.
“(LSU trainer) Cory Couture has worked harder with him than anyone else, and he needs to,” Mainieri said.
“I haven’t totally written off the year. If they come to me and say he’s ready to go, then we’ll take a look at it. But I’m not very optimistic, let’s just put it that way. We only have 12 games left to go in the season, three weeks. If he’s not capable of playing in the regular season, I probably would not activate him for the postseason.”
Lochridge, who had cemented a spot at third base prior to the injury, dealt with a similar injury in high school before seeing it flare up in mid-March just before Southeastern Conference play began.
Lochridge started 10 games and played in just 12. That would qualify him for a medical redshirt, Mainieri said.
“I think he meets the criteria if he doesn’t play in any of the games the rest of the way and the doctor never certified him to be ready to go,” Mainieri said. “We’ve been talking about that, but we’ll just have to look at it at the end of the season.”
Chris Reid has since taken hold at third base, hitting .312 while committing five errors and making 41 assists. Reid had a career-high four-hit game in Saturday’s loss to Ole Miss.
— Follow Chandler Rome on Twitter,@Chandler_Rome.