Danny Zardon and Bryce Jordan, who have shared time at third all year, have combined to commit five errors, and Zardon has the worst fielding percentage among regular players.
As a result, Mainieri plans to use Conner Hale at third starting with Tuesday’s game against Stephen F. Austin. Hale came to LSU from junior college as a third baseman. The Tigers actually signed him as a backup plan in case Christian Ibarra signed with a professional club after his junior season.
Ibarra returned for his senior year though, so the LSU coaches moved Hale to the right side of the infield, where he’s been ever since. He’s started 66 games at either first or second, and now he’s set to make his first start at third.
“I don’t think Conner is going to be a web gem-type third baseman,” Mainieri said. “But I think he’s got a chance to be pretty steady over there, which is what we need.”
Mainieri hasn’t given up on Zardon though. He’ll replace Hale at first base in what Mainieri called “his defensive unit,” which also includes Kramer Robertson at second. When Mainieri wants his “offensive unit,” Zardon will move back to third, Hale will play second and Chris Chinea will man first.
Mainieri still hopes that Zardon will be more ready to be the full-time third baseman as a junior in 2016.
“Really what I want is someone that makes the routine plays,” Mainieri said. “I really wanted it to be Zardon, because I didn’t want to have to replace the entire left side of the infield [next season]. He’s still going to play some, but right now I think Hale’s going to take over the majority of the time.”
Mainieri has toyed with another option as well. Jared Foster played infield in high school, and Mainieri has had him take some reps at third base in the last couple weeks.
Mainieri would like to find a way to get both he and Jake Fraley in the lineup together. Those two are combining to hit .373, but with Andrew Stevenson and Mark Laird entrenched at the other two outfield spots, one would typically have to be left out of the lineup.
But maybe it can work out if Foster emerges as a legitimate option at third base. Mainieri said his throws were a bit erratic, but he has some potential.
“He’s a good athlete, and he reacts well,” Mainieri said. “That’s just a tough, long throw. He’s got a strong arm. It’s just inaccurate right now.”
MIDWEEK PITCHING PLANS
Kyle Bouman will get his first start of the season Tuesday against Stephen F. Austin.
He landed in the weekend rotation last year but has been operating out of the bullpen in 2015. He’s had some issues in his three appearances, allowing five runs (four earned) in three innings of work. He’s also walked two with only one strikeout, while also serving up a pair of home runs.
But Mainieri said he hasn’t been disappointed with Bouman to this point, and he’s willing to give him another crack at the midweek role for the rest of the season.
“Bouman’s got a lot of experience,” Mainieri said. “He pitched some good games for us last year. The time is right now for Bouman to get a start and see how it looks.”
Freshman Doug Norman will take the mound to start Wednesday’s game against Grambling. He’s started both of LSU’s midweek games this year, but he too has had some struggles.
He’s surrendered 10 runs (five earned) and 15 hits in nine innings of work thus far. He has struck out nine — compared to two walks — but opponents have a .405 batting average against him.
“I’m not sure what we’re going to do with Doug Norman going forward,” Mainieri said. “He’s going to have to pitch a lot better than he’s pitched in order to continue in the rotation.”
Unfortunately Bouman won’t also occupy a spot in the batting order when he starts Tuesday.
The senior pitcher wants another at-bat after recording an infield single against Princeton on Saturday. That surprising piece of offensive production has earned him the nickname “White Lightning” from his teammates after his 5.8-second dash down the first base line.
“I’ve gotten a lot more text messages about that at-bat than about any time I’ve pitched here,” Bouman said.
It’s doubtful he’ll ever get a chance to repeat that performance. So the memories will have to do, and Bouman admitted it still feels like a dream.
He said Mainieri told him in the seventh inning Saturday that he’d bat in place of Mark Laird because LSU had burned the DH spot. Bouman borrowed Conner Hale’s bat and went to the plate in a competitive game for the first time since the summer before his freshman year.
“I wasn’t going to walk,” he said. “That’s for sure. I was getting my hacks at least. I was going to swing for the fences.”
Bouman made contact on the third pitch he saw, but he didn’t quite reach the fences. His dribbler ended up in the perfect spot though, far enough away from everyone to make sure he had enough time to reach first safely.
“I didn’t exactly know what pitch was coming,” Bouman said. “I was just a little bit eager, pulled my head out a little bit…I thought I was for sure out. But I took a look at the replay, and I couldn’t have hit it in a more perfect spot.”
Andrew Stevenson is 100 percent ready to play after sitting out three of LSU’s four games last week. Mainieri said Stevenson could have played in the second game of LSU’s doubleheader Saturday, but held him out as a precaution. Stevenson will return to the starting lineup Tuesday.
Freshman outfielder Beau Jordan underwent surgery Thursday for a lateral meniscus tear. Mainieri said the procedure went as good as one could hope, and Jordan should return some time this season, possibly in a month.
Freshman pitcher Jake Latz will throw for the first time in more than a month. He’ll have a bullpen session Friday in Houston. He’ll then undergo an MRI on Monday to examine how his arm responds to throwing again.
His bullpen session on Friday will be his first time on the mound since preseason practice, when he was shut down with soreness in his throwing elbow. It was the same injury that held him out for most of fall practice, and Mainieri wants to play it safe moving forward.
“The most important thing right now is to make sure his arm is healthy,” Mainieri said. “But we’re not going to rush it. I didn’t think we rushed it this last time, but evidently we rushed it a little bit too much and it flared up. We’re going to learn from that and maybe slow it down a little.”
Freshman infielder Greg Deichmann is also on the right track to make his return. He suffered a stress fracture in his foot during preseason practices and has been in a boot ever since. Mainieri said a doctor will examine him Thursday and determine if he can have the boot taken off.
If it can, then Deichmann will take some batting practice with the team in Houston, and they’ll monitor his progression to determine when he can return to the field.