Baton Rouge --- LSU head coach Paul Mainieri has never hesitated to mix things up when his club isn’t producing.
After a seven game stretch that included six defeats, Mainieri is jumbling his line up once again.
Freshman JaCoby Jones, who started the season hitting ninth, got a shot at the leadoff spot over the weekend in Athens.
He’s on the move again.
“We’re gonna hit JaCoby third,” Mainieri said. “I didn‘t know what kind of start Jones would get off too. I think he’s ready.”
Jones slides in front of the Southeastern Conference’s leading home run hitter: Mikie Mahtook.
“Jones is more of a prototypical three-hole hitter,” Mainieri said. “Mahtook is a four-hole hitter. I think it will give us that middle of the order that will give us the best chance.”
The move ushers junior Tyler Hanover up in the order, presumably to the second spot.
“I’m just going to stick with the same mentality that I did in the three-hole, just try to get on base,” Hanover said.
Although he’s spent the season hitting third, Hanover is tied for the team-lead in sacrifice bunts with eight, and his seven strikeouts on the season are the fewest on the team among players who have played at least 20 games.
The two-hole has been occupied by designated hitter Raph Rhymes all season, but all indications are that the junior will bump up to the leadoff spot.
“I kind of like the idea of Rhymes leading off,“ Mainieri said. “Hanover handles the bat so well, and I’ve always looked at him as a two-hole hitter.”
Trey Watkins, LSU’s leadoff hitter for 24 ballgames, has slumped to a .225 batting average, and his strikeout total, 18, leads the team.
“I’m gonna take Trey Watkins out of the lineup,” Mainieri said. “Trey is just really pressing. He got off to a sluggish start, and I think it’s shaken his confidence to the point where he hasn’t played very well in left field.”
Watkins misplayed a pair of balls in game three of the Georgia series.
“Sometimes I do this with players, you take them out, not because you’ve lost confidence in them, but because they’ve lost confidence in themselves,” Mainieri said. “Without the pressure of having to perform, they kind of watch the game from a different perspective so that when you put them back in, they play better.
“That may even be with Alex Edward.”
Edward, who has started 16 games at first base, will take over in left field for Watkins. Edward started 10 games in left field a season ago after Watkins went down with an elbow injury during the Georgia series.
“I’ve been working (in left field) a pretty good bit over that last couple of weeks,” Edward said. “I feel pretty comfortable out there. I think it’ll be a good switch.”
With Edward’s right handed bat now in left field, first base becomes somewhat of an Achillies’ heel for Mainieri.
“I don’t think in all my coaching career I’ve had such a problem with first base,” Mainieri said. “It’s usually the easiest position to fill. I just can’t share with you what I’m gonna do right now.”
Mainieri’s options extend further this season than any during his five year tenure at LSU.
He now has five players on the roster who pitch and hit, creating another avenue to explore. Mike Lowery, a left handed hitter, will get the nod against a right hander, but a lefty hurler makes things interesting.
“The other possibility will probably come from those two-way players,” Maineri said. “You can use your imagination. We’re gonna look at it (Tuesday).”
Kevin Berry, Kurt Cunningham, Joe Broussard and Ryan Eades come to mind.
Another change to the lineup on Wednesday night will be starting pitcher Forrest Garrett. The lefthander underwent Tommy John surgery last spring, and he will be making his first appearance of the season.
Maineiri only expects the freshman to throw one inning, but he’ll add another left-handed arm to the staff to complement Chris Cotton.
The contest between LSU and McNeese State is set for 6:30 p.m. at Alex Box Stadium.