NOTES: A reason for a new look

Mainieri adjusted lineup to put added pressure on State pitcher Chris Stratton.

HOOVER, Ala. – A momentous challenge meant some lineup changes for LSU on Wednesday when the Tigers opened play at the SEC Tournament.

And the tweaking paid dividends, just not enough in a 3-2 loss to Mississippi State.

Facing Bulldogs' ace Chris Stratton, LSU coach Paul Mainieri stacked his lineup with his best hitters at the top, three left-handers in the middle and the final three.

That meant Mason Katz and Raph Rhymes sliding down a spot to second and third, respectively, with Tyler Moore, Grant Dozar and Arby Fields providing the middle of the batting order.

Mainieri's adjustment was in reaction to what Stratton did to the Tigers in their first meeting against him: 17 strikeouts, his career-best and the most by an SEC pitcher this season.

"Stratton is really good," Mainieri said. "He's clearly not only one of the best pitchers in the SEC, he's one of the best pitchers in the country. I have a lot of respect for the kid. I just thought we'd try to do something a little different and I just wanted to stack our best hitters together and think that maybe we could have a couple of rallies in the game two separate times against him or scratch out a run or two against him doing that.

"I was hoping (the three lefthanders) might bait (State coach John Cohen) into going to a left-hander and get that kid out of the game. We never got to that point and our lefties didn't really have a great game against him."

The strategy did come into play in the fifth inning when it was Katz who came to the plate with two runners on and two outs. After striking out in his first two at-bats, Katz punched a two-run single to left field on a full-count pitch to even the score 2-2.

Welcome back

Ty Ross

Catcher Ty Ross pinch-hit in the ninth inning Wednesday, a surprisingly quick return from an appendectomy on May 12.

Ross struck out looking, but he took a mighty hack at the first pitch he saw from Bulldogs closer Johnathan Holder.

"Obviously he's made tremendous progress," Mainieri said. "He took batting practice (Tuesday and Wednesday), and probably took the two best batting practices he's taken in two years. His bat was quick and he felt great.

"We had him throw to bases and he squatted and actually caught about 10 pitches from Nola. … I know he wants to catch but I can't imagine him catching the entire game. Maybe just a little bit to get his timing back."

Busy committee

Seven LSU pitchers took the mound Wednesday as Mainieri and pitching coach Alan Dunn followed a similar plan to how they approached most mid-week games this season.

And although two of the relievers allowed State's three runs, the Tigers got a solid night from the bullpen for the most part.

Brent Bonvillain allowed a pair of runs in the third inning on four hits and Joe Broussard surrendered the winning run in the sixth inning at the tail end of his 2.2-inning stint.

Other than those two, Kevin Berry and Nick Rumbelow each did their job to record an out and escape an inning, Chris Cotton notched one scoreless frame and Joey Bourgeois finished up with a pair of 1-2-3 innings.

"I thought the bullpen did a really good job (Wednesday)," Mainieri said.

"We won't save anybody now. We're in the loser's bracket. If we lose a game, we're going home. We'll go with Gausman. Everybody will be available. We didn't use (Kurt) McCune and we didn't use (Nick) Goody and then if we're fortunate enough to advance beyond (Thursday), on Friday we'll go with Eades and we'll see where we are at that point."

Around the horn

  • The two biggest swings of the day were by hitters who had struck out in their first two at-bats – Mason Katz's two-run single in the LSU fifth inning and Demarcus Henderson's two-strike single the next inning. Henderson struck out again after his clutch hit.

    Joe Broussard: Takes his first loss despite 2.2 solid innings of work.

  • Stratton's strikeout total shrunk from 17 to only eight, but he did strike out six of the nine LSU starters. Katz and Dozar fanned two times each.

  • The Tigers' pitchers combined to fan nine, paced by starter Aaron Nola and Broussard with three apiece. LSU also issued only one walk.

  • Including nine innings Wednesday, the Tigers have gone 67 innings against SEC competition without scoring more than two runs in an inning. LSU has only six innings with two runs in that span.

  • Wednesday's tournament-opening loss was the second in the last five SEC tourneys for the Tigers. They came back to win the 2009 tournament after losing to Vanderbilt, 4-1 in the opener. LSU hasn't gone 0-and-2 in Hoover since 2005, which was the second year in a row it happened.

  • LSU fell to 15-7 in one-run games this season, 12-6 vs. SEC foes in one-run games and 12-7 against ranked foes. The loss also snapped a nine-game SEC Tournament winning streak.

  • The last three games of tournament action were all by identical 3-2 scores and those followed a 2-0 Ole Miss victory over Arkansas. The math: Four games decided by a total of five runs.

    Shut down and now work to do

    SEC Tournament On Deck

    SEC Tournament bracket

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