HOOVER, Ala. – At the last time of this baseball season when a silver lining will be worth much to LSU, there was a notable one Saturday after a gut-wrenching 4-3 loss to Mississippi State.
Perhaps a bit tarnished in Paul Mainieri’s opinion, but at least it was silver.
In the loss that knocked the No. 2-ranked Tigers out of the SEC Tournament, right-hander Ryan Eades logged six shutout innings. It was longest stint since April 14 and the major positive sign was the 0 on the scoreboard.
It was far from flawless, as Eades walked four batters and hit another. He also struggled at times to work ahead in the count – a problem that has plagued him in most of his last six starts.
Despite some dodging in and out of trouble, though, Eades showed some tenacity for a second straight outing by stranding runners and escaping jams. He challenged hitters when he did fall behind and won most of those battles with the help of some sterling defense behind him.
“I think Ryan Eades looked great (Friday),” LSU catcher Ty Ross said. “He stayed on top of his fastball, he was working his curve ball, changeup and slider in there. He seemed more comfortable out there, and moving forward, I think his start (Friday) will help his confidence.”
Added shortstop Austin Nola, “He looked like he was throwing the ball well. He hit his spots. He’s getting better and that’s something to grow from as we move forward.”
Now that LSU’s season is headed toward an NCAA Tournament berth, Eades’ role takes on added importance.
As the No. 3 starter, he is likely to get the start either right before or perhaps right after ace Kevin Gausman with a chance to either get the Tigers off on a positive note or perhaps start a game when they can punch a ticket to the Super Regional round.
Perhaps with that in mind, Mainieri wasn’t as glowing as his players and tapped the brakes on praising Eades – likely with an eye on motivating the sophomore to keep striving to regain the early-season form when he was tough to hit as Gausman has been all season.
“His command was not very good,” Mainieri said. “He left a lot of balls up and fell behind a lot of hitters.
“To Ryan’s credit, he gets in jams but he gets out of them. That’s a wonderful quality to have. I’d much rather it be that way than the other way where he dominates and as soon as something bad happens he falls apart. He doesn’t fall apart. I know he can be better than what he’s showing. He just has to get the ball down in the zone with more consistency, and when he does that, he’s going to be special.”
Lots of talk
With the bottom of the 10th inning unfolding, Mississippi State coach John Cohen called a timeout to go over his scorecard with home-plate umpire Tony Maners.
As the discussion dragged on, Mainieri became visibly perturbed – apparently at both Maners and Cohen – for how long Tigers pitcher Nick Goody had to wait out on the mound with the afternoon sun shining down on him. At one point Mainieri barked at Maners and he also had words for Cohen.
|Paul Mainieri: Frustration with umpire Tony Maners|
“John had made some changes, and somehow the umpire was confused on where the changes were made and he didn’t want somebody batting out of order,” Mainieri said. “I was a little irritated because our pitcher’s out there trying to pitch and all of a sudden he’s got to stand on the mound for several minutes. I thought it was something that could’ve been handled at a different time between innings or whatever.”
After order had seemingly been restored, Goody surrendered a double to Mitch Slauter. As he made a pitching change, Mainieri stood with Maners and went through his own scorecard with the umpire.
Cohen tentatively came out of the dugout and crept closer to the discussion, and when Mainieri noticed his counterpart wandering closer he waved him away.
“I don’t know why it was so confusing for Tony,” Mainieri said. “He’s a veteran umpire. I don’t know why he misunderstood the changes.”
No change at the end
Goody blew his second save in four outings in the loss, but Mainieri said he has no plans to change the late-game format he and the Tigers will count on as the postseason kicks into high gear.
|Goody: More struggles for the LSU closer, but no change is pending|
The junior has saved 10 games this season, eight in one-run SEC wins, with three blown saves – two against State and another vs. Vanderbilt when he was handed a 4-3 lead and allowed a leadoff home run in the top of the ninth inning.
“Those kids have to pitch knowing the coach believes in them, and I believe in Nick Goody,” Mainieri said. “He’s had a phenomenal year and we wouldn’t be in the situation we’re in right now without him. I can’t imagine any reason why I’d change what we do in those situations.”
Should Goody falter again, there is no shortage of options available to Mainieri. Kurt McCune has LSU’s only other save this season and that was also in a one-run victory at Auburn. Left-hander Chris Cotton has proven to be untouchable at times for 1-3 inning stints. And Joey Bourgeois has also produced several 1-2-3 first innings when he’s come on in relief.
Around the horn
Gausman (10-1) is the first Tiger pitcher to win 10 games or more before the NCAA Tournament since Louis Coleman, who was 10-2 in 2009 before logging four wins in SEC Tournament and NCAA Tournament play.
LSU’s 1-2 showing at the league tournament was its worst since also losing two of three in 2006. That was also the last time the Tigers lost to the same opponent twice (Alabama).
The two one-run tournament losses in the same year were the first for LSU since 1995 when the Crimson Tide handed the Tigers a pair of 9-8 setbacks, the second in the championship game.
In the last 15 games, LSU’s record is just 8-7. But the last four losses are all by one run, three of those to the two teams playing in Sunday’s SEC championship game (State, Vanderbilt) and the other to the East Division champion (South Carolina). The Tigers held leads in three of those losses. Another loss was by two runs (5-3) and ended with Raph Rhymes at bat with the bases loaded.
NCAA Tournament regional host sites will be revealed at approximately 2:30 p.m. Sunday at www.ncaa.com/CWS and will also be shown on the Bottom Line scrawl on the ESPN networks. The eight national seeds will not be known until Monday when the entire field is unveiled at 11 a.m. on ESPNU.