MAINIERI: Tigers are coming up a bit short

LSU's had a far-from-ideal start to SEC play. After getting swept this past weekend, the Tigers are facing their first four-game losing streak in three years. But Paul Mainieri hasn't lost confidence in his team, and he's optimistic better times are ahead.

When Paul Mainieri first looked at the 2014 schedule, he cringed at the thought of facing Vanderbilt and Florida on the road in two of the year's first three SEC series.

He felt having four or five conference wins at this point in the year would put them in "good position" to compete in the SEC pecking order. But LSU hasn't quite lived up to that, dropping two-of-three to the Commodores and getting swept by the Gators.

Combine this past weekend's result with their midweek loss to Tulane, and the Tigers have their first four-game losing streak in three years. They also sit in last place in the SEC West.

"We're a little bit short of where we wanted to be," Mainieri said. "We're staring up at the rest of the league, but we still have seven weekends to go. Nobody on our team is down. We're going to stay very positive. I love these kids. They're playing hard and with a lot of passion. We're doing some great things, we've just come up a bit short."

The LSU fan base may not have the same patience though, particularly as LSU's offensive slump has lingered far longer than many would like. The Tigers are hitting just .212 in nine SEC games this season, with Conner Hale the only everyday player hitting above .300 in conference games.

But Mainieri isn't as quick to press the panic button. He referenced teams he's coached in the past that struggled at first but finished strong. The 2008 team, for example, opened SEC play 6-11 before sweeping the final four series to earn a national seed in the NCAA Tournament.

"I tell them all the time this is why God put your eyes in the front of your head and not the back," Mainieri said. "So you can look forward and not behind. This is the way we're going to look at it."



Alex Bregman's still rutted in a slump

BREGMAN'S HITTING WOES CONTINUE


Mainieri has tried a number of different things to get Alex Bregman's bat going again. He's moved him around in the batting order and even barred him from conducting media interviews with hopes that could get him to relax.

So far that hasn't worked. Bregman went 0-for-12 at the plate against Florida and has only three hits in SEC play, a .086 batting average, worst among everyday players.

"Bregman is such an important part of our offense, and the poor kid has struggled," Mainieri said. "It's been somewhat mechanical. It's been somewhat mental. He's somewhat pressing. But the kid has no quit in him. I have not stopped believing in him for a second."

Mainieri and Bregman had a private batting practice Monday morning. Mainieri said they've made some minor adjustments to his swing and stance and that yielded positive results in Monday's workout.

Mainieri said Bregman was peppering the outfield bleachers with home runs, which is something he hasn't even been doing in practice recently. Now they can only hope that finally carries over into a game.

"Come this Wednesday, he's going to break out of it and go on a tear," Mainieri said. "He'll carry it right into the weekend and beyond. He's too good of a hitter for this to continue."

FRESHMEN TRENDING IN DIFFERENT DIRECTIONS


The SEC schedule has been a different experience for freshmen Jake Fraley and Kramer Robertson.

Fraley's feeling the highs. He's the king of small sample sizes, but he's appeared in five conference games and has a .333 batting average with nine at-bats. In Sunday's game against Florida, his only SEC start, Fraley drove in a pair of runs with a double that gave the Tigers a two-run lead at the time.

Mainieri hopes to give Fraley more playing time and may even insert him into the everyday lineup.

"He's just ready to do some good stuff for us," Mainieri said. "He reminds me a little bit of Mikie [Mahtook]. This was about the time when Mikie got a shot and sparked our team. Maybe Jake will have the same effect on our team this year."

Robertson, on the other hand, has felt the lows. He's struggled at the plate with just two hits in 22 conference at-bats. He also committed a pair of errors in a costly fifth inning Saturday that contributed to three runs.

While Mainieri hasn't lost confidence in Robertson, he admits it's possible he's not yet ready for everyday action.

"Sometimes I think I've been unfair to him by putting him in so early," Mainieri said. "But you can see why I do. When he does some good stuff, it's great stuff. But I had this sense he'd be erratic at times…If you're going to play a young kid like that, you have to be willing to take the good with the bad and hope the bad is somewhat limited."


Alden Cartwright will get his first career start Wednesday

LAGNIAPPE


---Alden Cartwright will get the start Wednesday when LSU faces McNeese State. The Tigers plan to use several pitchers, and Mainieri hopes Cartwright can get them off to a solid start. This will be his first career start at LSU.

"He's just going to be the first pitcher of a few," Mainieri said. "It's going to be pieced together. We're just looking for somebody to get us off to the best start possible."

---Kyle Bouman is still questionable for this coming weekend's series against Mississippi State. He's missed his last two weekend starts after spraining his ankle two weeks ago. Bouman threw a bullpen session over the weekend, which Mainieri said was a "decent success" though the ankle's still bothering him and hindering his quickness off the mound.

Mainieri said it's possible Bouman returns for an inning Wednesday, but that is still to be determined.

---Mainieri experimented with Zac Person in a starter's role Sunday, but that likely won't continue. Person surrendered five earned runs in 2 2/3 innings against Florida with two walks and four hits. Mainieri wasn't disappointed in the outing though, he just believes Person's most valuable out of the bullpen.

"I really didn't find any fault in him," Mainieri said. "The kid pitched pretty well, just not as great as he can. I'd rather use him out of the pen when he can let it rip and get his fastball up. I'd like to keep him in the pen if we can, but we'll see."

---LSU took an expected tumble in the rankings after an 0-4 week. The Tigers took the biggest hit in the Baseball America rankings, dropping 12 spots to No. 20. LSU fell 10 spots to No. 16 in the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper poll and come in at No. 14 in the Perfect Game Top 25.

LSU's still in the top-10 in the USA Today Coaches' Poll (No. 9) and NCBWA rankings (No. 10).

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