Busy work is something most people can appreciate, especially when they want to avoid distraction.
Turns out the busiest week of LSU’s baseball season couldn’t have come at a better time.
Fresh off a potential season-defining two-weekend stretch of games against top-three SEC opposition, the Tigers (25-7) dive into a stretch of six games in nine days when they entertain Alcorn State (7-25) at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.
That includes back-to-back mid-week games for the only the second time all season, with a trip to Metairie on Wednesday to face Southern Miss in the Wally Pontiff Jr. Classic at Zephyr Field.
With the busy slate coming up, LSU was able to exhale Sunday and Monday and let a series victory at top-ranked Florida sink in.
Sunday’s win was especially meaningful – Tigers’ coach Paul Mainieri called it “One of my favorite wins in (his) college career” – after LSU rallied from a 7-2 deficit with a makeshift lineup because left fielder Raph Rhymes was on the shelf with a concussion and his replacement, Alex Edward, suffered a hamstring injury during the game.
“I’m so proud of our team this weekend,” Mainieri said, alluding to the contributions of reserves like Jordy Snikeris and Arby Fields. “That was the main reason.”
“We’re going to count on a synergistic approach with this team where the whole sum is better than the parts.”
Snikeris and Fields, along with left-handed reliever Brent Bonvillain, typified how valuable and necessary LSU’s moveable parts can and will be during the second half of the season.
Snikeris got his second start in a row behind the plate last Thursday because Ty Ross was suspended after missing a weight-lifting session. The senior responded with a pair of hits and a sacrifice fly.
“I just tried to look at it as a great opportunity,” Snikeris said. “You’ve been practicing for months and preparing for those moments, so you want to step up and help the team win. It gives me a lot of confidence knowing that Coach is willing to put me in that situation.”
Fields experienced that same feeling Sunday and made the best of a tough situation.
Thrust into action with Rhymes and Edward out, Fields came through with an RBI triple and then scored the tying run on a wild pitch. He also made a pair of nice plays with his glove and will get a chance to man either left of center field Tuesday – perhaps longer if Rhymes isn’t cleared to come back for a weekend series against Alabama (Mainieri said the junior will sit out the two mid-week games).
In limited action, Fields is hitting only .192, but three of his five hits are triples and he has chased in four runs in 26 at-bats.
“It was a real intense atmosphere, so when I went in, I wanted to do whatever I could to help the team win,” Field said. “I’m just going to take this one day at a time and go from there.”
For both Snikeris and Fields, delivering in clutch situations bodes well for getting chances as the season moves on.
Snikeris, who is hitting .412 (7-for-17) will likely catch Tuesday to avoid wear-and-tear on Ross. With five hits in his last seven at-bats and three RBIs, it’s also conceivable Snikeris could get some cuts as the right-handed DH with Edward out indefinitely with the hamstring ailment.
Fields and Jared Foster went through some drills Tuesday to determine who will start in center field for the immediate future until Rhymes is healthy enough to return – with the possibility that he could also DH while he gets back to full speed.
“We’re going to need those guys all season and right now it’s their chance to show me what they can do,” Mainieri said.
That applies to the emerging LSU bullpen too, as Bonvillain illustrated with his 4-inning stint with no runs allowed against the Gators.
“We’re going to let it be Joe Broussard’s game for 4-5 innings and Cody Glenn after that,” Mainieri said. “If we can get through with two pitchers, then on Wednesday we’ll do what we’ve typically been doing and use a lot of our relief guys for an inning apiece because we think that gives is the best chance to beat Southern Miss.”
Mainieri said freshman right-hander Aaron Nola is making good progress toward a return to the rotation on Sunday against Alabama.
Nola left his last start against Arkansas with a sore shoulder on April 1 and hasn’t pitched in a game since then. He played catch twice in Gainesville and went through a bullpen session on Saturday. He was scheduled for more side work Monday and could log an inning Wednesday if he is pain-free.
Bonvillain claims SEC honor
After his clutch performance against Florida on top of claiming a win during the week against Louisiana College, Bonvillain was named the SEC Pitcher of the Week on Monday.
The Houma native worked six innings in the two appearances, allowing only two hits and one run while striking out seven on the way to his first two LSU wins.
In the polls
LSU’s series wins against Arkansas and Florida back-to-back has allowed the Tigers to vault up the national polls.
In the new polls released Monday, LSU was up to No. 3 in the Collegiate Baseball rankings, No. 5 by Baseball America, No. 7 by USA Today/ESPN and No. 8 in the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association.