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LSU centerfielder Giovanni DiGiacomo (7) bats against Air Force, Saturday, February 20, 2021, at Alex Box Stadium on the campus of LSU in Baton Rouge, La.

Junior center fielder Giovanni DiGiacomo will miss “at least a couple of weeks” with a strained hamstring, LSU coach Paul Mainieri said, creating a hole in the middle of the outfield.

LSU plans to primarily use two underclassmen, sophomore Mitchell Sanford and freshman Will Safford, until DiGiacomo heals. However, Safford must also recover from a hip injury sustained in pregame warmups Monday.

As a result, Sanford will likely start in center field for the second straight game Wednesday night against UL. He may receive an extended opportunity, depending on how much time Safford needs to return.

“I don't have any doubt that Mitchell Sanford can hit,” Mainieri said. “I've been looking to try to get him at-bats anyway.”

Sanford, a sophomore from Berwick, doesn’t have much experience. In 2020, he appeared in nine games with four starts, inching into the lineup before the coronavirus pandemic ended his freshman season. He batted .250 (3 for 12) with two RBIs, five runs scored and one stolen base.

Mainieri wanted to find playing time for Sanford, but LSU has solidified starters at designated hitter and in the outfield, his possible positions.

Then DiGiacomo sprinted toward a fly ball in shallow right-center field Sunday afternoon against Air Force. He called off right fielder Dylan Crews and fell as he caught the ball. DiGiacomo remained on the ground, clutching the back of his left leg. He hobbled off the field with his left arm draped over LSU’s athletic trainer.

“He’s got a strained hamstring,” Mainieri said Monday night. “It was pretty sore today. I really don’t have any kind of a timetable, but it’ll be awhile. My guess is it’ll probably be at least a couple of weeks.”

With DiGiacomo out, Mainieri planned to start Safford. LSU released a lineup with him in center field.

During batting practice before LSU played Louisiana Tech on Monday night, Safford chased a fly ball. He didn’t yell loud enough, Mainieri said, and collided with junior left fielder Gavin Dugas. Both players kept participating in warmups. Soon, Safford’s hip felt tight. He couldn’t swing a bat.

“Safford's hip is a little bit better today,” Mainieri said Monday. “It's not 100 percent.”

So LSU started Sanford. Batting sixth, he went 2 for 4. In the bottom of the fifth inning, with LSU trailing 5-1, Sanford hit a leadoff single and eventually scored. Sanford singled again in the sixth inning, loading the bases for Dugas’ game-tying grand slam.

Mainieri replaced Sanford with junior Drew Bianco in the later innings, opting for a better defender in center field as LSU protected its lead. Sanford had caught the only fly ball hit his way.

“I felt confident that he would be able to run down the rather routine balls,” Mainieri said. “I don't know that he'll have the range to cover like Will Safford would or Giovanni would, but we'll keep monitoring it.”

DiGiacomo batted .333 (2 for 6) with a triple and one stolen base before his injury. The fastest player on the team, his range in the outfield will be difficult to replace.

LSU hopes Sanford, Safford and Bianco can fill the position as it waits for DiGiacomo to heal. It may also look at sophomore two-sport athlete Maurice Hampton, who started seven games and batted .231 last season.

“I know Drew and Mitch and Will Safford, whenever he’s healthy, are going to come and take that role and run with it,” Dugas said. “It’s going to be just like Gio never left."

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