Double troule at the top

Jones and Fields are shaping up as a nightmare for opposing pitchers.

JaCoby Jones hasn’t hung up huge numbers this season for No. 1-ranked LSU, at least not consistently, when he’s batted from the leadoff spot.

 

But his speed and the threat of what he can do when he does reach base is plenty for pitchers to contemplate every time he steps into the batter’s box.

 

Arby Fields struggled to get onto the field for most of the first half of the season because he rarely made contact. Now he’s become a regular and because of his speed, he poses the same kind of threat Jones does.

 

Put those two back-to-back in the Tigers’ batting order and you get a feel for what opposing pitchers are dealing with.

 

LSU (30-7) is back in action at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday before a road trip to Kentucky to take on the No. 2-ranked Wildcats in a SEC series.

 

And the Cardinals (13-21) will have to contend with the 1-2 tandem of Jones and Fields at the top of the batting order. The presence of Mason Katz (leads team with 11 doubles and 7 home runs) and Raph Rhymes, the leading hitter in the country with a .476 average, right behind those two and there are plenty of potential headaches for whoever is on the mound.

 

“We’ve got a lot of speed at the top, and when he and I get on base, it creates opportunities for Mason and Raph,” said Jones, who is hitting .264 and is second on the team with 30 runs scored. “With Arby hitting from the left side against right-handers, that gives him that extra step and puts more pressure on the defense.”

 

Added Fields, who is hitting .526 (10-for-19) with 6 runs and 6 RBIs since moving into the lineup against Florida when Alex Edward tweaked his hamstring, “Our job is to get on base, create some havoc, steal some bases and ultimately do whatever we can to get into scoring position because we have, in my opinion, the best 3- and 4-hole hitters in the country.”

 

LSU coach Paul Mainieri has – as he often does – shifted players and tinkered with the batting order to see who fits better and where. Jones has batted first or second most of the season, but has also been slotted in the fifth and sixth spots. Fields has hit mostly eighth or ninth.

 

Now, though, with Tyler Hanover’s versatility to hit anywhere in the order and freshman Jared Foster starting to get more comfortable again with the bat, the Tigers have an opportunity for as much balance as they’ve had all season 1-9.

Arby Fields

 

One other tweak Mainieri could make is hitting Fields leadoff to give Jones a chance to see more fastballs when Fields is on base. Fields said he has been a leadoff hitter most of his life and would comfortable there.

 

Jones has scuffled to adjust to the leadoff role. He has been the primary starter there the last 16 games (15 starts) and is hitting only .242 (16 of 66) in that stretch with 12 runs and 8 RBIs.

 

In 12 games in the two-hole, Jones batted .352 (19 of 54) with 14 runs and 3 RBIs.

 

Whether swapping Jones and Fields is next on Mainieri’s to-do list or not, the LSU coach is satisfied with what he’s getting from his two speedy hitters.

 

 “Those guys to me are two peas in a pod; they’re table-setters,” Mainieri said. “They have to get on base when the lineup turns over because that makes our offense so much better.”

 

Jones has seemed more comfortable as a hitter since he moved from center field – where he started the first eight games this season – back to second base, the job he held all last season.

 

He said roaming center field was getting more comfortable to him, but the infield is a more natural fit.

“The infield is where I’ve played my entire life, so I’m used to be in the action,” Jones said. “It keeps me more involved in what’s going on. I liked center field, but I had to get used to the ball not coming out there nearly as much.”

 

Getting comfortable with Fields batting either behind or in front of him needs to pay off with Jones finding some consistency.

 

In the series final against Alabama, he collected a pair of hits in his final three at-bats and scored twice. That snapped a 2-for-26 skid which sent his batting average from .296 on April 5 to his current mark.

 

“I’ve been getting myself out by swinging at pitcher’s pitches instead of pitches I need to swing at,” he said. “I need to stay aggressive, but be more selective at the same time.”

 

Rhymes hasn’t had to wrestle with any such slump this season, and now it’s possible he could be back in left field Wednesday.

 

He missed three games recovering from a concussion and spent last weekend as the DH, collecting 6 hits in 10 at-bats.

 

Raph Rhymes

In Sunday pre-game work, Rhymes shagged fly balls in the outfield during batting practice and he has gradually increased his practice time out there.

 

“I’m getting back out there and getting more comfortable again,” Rhymes said. “I’ve taken some at night and can tell my vision is better than it was when I was out.”

 

Mainieri said he will only put Rhymes back in the field if he’s comfortable. When that happens, that frees up the DH spot and gives Mainieri some options. He said he could platoon that spot with Grant Dozar against right-handed pitching and either Jordy Snikeris, Alex Edward, Jackson Slaid or Casey Yocom getting at-bats against southpaws -- and Kentucky will start three.

 

Edward is back to “about 80%,” Mainieri said and will likely be on the travel roster to Kentucky.

 

Working into the mix

Joe Broussard

Sophomore Joe Broussard gets another mid-week start against Lamar on Wednesday, although he will likely be limited to 3-5 innings.

 

Broussard is 4-0 with a 3.75 ERA and is contention for a starting role for the postseason.

 

“I like the way Joe has been throwing and I’m thinking a lot about his development as a fourth starter for the postseason if necessary,” Mainieri said.

 

About Lamar

 

  • As bad as the Cardinals’ record is – barring a major turnaround, they’re on the way to their worst season in Coach Jim Gilligan’s 35-tenure – they have notched a handful of attention-getters this season.

    Lamar owns two wins against third-ranked Baylor and one apiece against No. 11 Rice and 20th-ranked Sam Houston State.

    This is the first time the Cardinals have tangled with No. 1 since April 9, 2003 when they beat Rice 7-5.

    • Gilligan ranks sixth among active coaches with 1,206 wins.

    • Lamar has been shut out five times this season and is 5-4 in one-run games.

    • No Cardinal is hitting .300 or better this season. Junior-college transfers Seth Dornak and Darian Johnson pace Lamar, hitting .296 and .287 respectively. After that, no regular is hitting higher than .266. The Cardinals are averaging only 3.7 runs a game and are allowing 5.5.

    ON DECK: Lamar at LSU


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