MOORMANN: Three keys to Zeringue's success

There are at least three reasons that LSU junior right fielder Jon Zeringue had hit 12 doubles through the Tigers' first 17 games.

1. Aaron Hill. He's the only starting position player not back from a year ago, but Hill's spirit lives on through Zeringue. It was last season's Southeastern Conference Player of the Year who taught Zeringue the value of hustle and how it can relate to improved performance.

 

"A lot of my doubles aren't balls off the wall," Zeringue, "it's just hustle....I hustle my butt off on the bases every chance I get. He (Hill) helped me out a lot."

 

Hill, a shortstop, parlayed his desire and ability into becoming the Toronto Blue Jays' first-round draft choice. Zeringue already has been a third-rounder, with the Chicago White Sox having picked him that high out of Thibodaux's E.D. White High School.

 

Zeringue turned down the opportunity for a lucrative signing bonus and opted for LSU, which he said was the right move for him.

 

"It'd been nice to have the money," he said, "but money can't buy you experience. I've learned so much here."

 

What makes Zeringue so dangerous is that he's continued to grow and gain knowledge. A converted catcher, he's become an adept outfielder with a cannon for a right arm.

 

"I like to show it off," he said. "I like to hear the 'ooohhs' and 'aaahs' from the crowd."

 

2. Strength. Zeringue's innate power has helped him to lead the SEC in doubles through non-conference play. Zeringue will test his talent against an SEC opponent for the first time this season when LSU visit South Carolina this weekend.

 

"He takes a ferocious cut at the plate," said Southeastern Louisiana coach Dan Canevari, who was an LSU assistant coach in Zeringue's freshman year. "He can mis-hit doubles."

 

Zeringue hasn't been clubbing monster shots the way first baseman Brad Hawpe did when he set the NCAA doubles record with 36 in 2000. Hawpe missed countless home runs with balls that hit various parts of the fence. Rather, Zeringue has been smoking balls into the gaps and sending them down the foul lines. In whatever direction Zeringue hits it, the ball is sure to travel fast.

 

"He's a big, strong kid," said Canevari, who watched Zeringue double in the opener of LSU's three-game series with SLU last weekend. "The scouts aren't wrong."

 

Zeringue finished with 15 doubles all of last season when he hit .339 with 13 home runs and 45 runs batted in while earning All-SEC second-team accolades.

 

His .382 average over the final 34 games was best on the team, and enough to warrant

his selection to the Baseball America preseason All-America team.

 

"Twelve doubles is nothing," LSU coach Smoke Laval said. "He's so strong. He's Magilla Gorilla."

 

3. Maturity. With age has come discipline at the plate. Zeringue is less apt to "get himself out," which was Laval's major criticism of Zeringue last year.

 

Zeringue has become more selective in choosing when to swing. Rather than trying to follow suit after a grand slam and a long flyout before him, Zeringue worked a walk. In the past, Zeringue would have wanted to blast the ball, as well, no matter the location of the pitch, Laval said.

 

"He's so much more mature," Laval said. "He just grew up. Now, he feels confident."

 

Zeringue still battles with breaking pitches, but that's not unlike most any other collegian. Throw him a fastball and take cover from the line drive that is likely to come your way.

 

For all of Zeringue's worth, the Tigers don't have to rely solely on his strength and his ability to hit doubles. They feature a bruising batting order that includes brothers Clay and Will Harris, junior left fielder Ryan Patterson and junior newcomer Nick Stavinoha as the designated hitter.

 

Clay Harris, a junior first and third baseman, tied  Patterson for the home-run lead last year with 16. Will Harris, a sophomore pitcher and first baseman, recently hit safely in eight consecutive at-bats, including his first career grand slam. With three early home runs, Stavinoha has shown glimpses of the home-run hitting champion he was at San Jacinto (Texas) Junior College.

 

"You can't really pitch around anybody in the lineup," Zeringue said. "Everybody

can hit."

 

LSU came out this season hitting with authority, having bounced back from its two-and-out performance at the College World Series.

 

"It's like we never broke stride," Zeringue said.

 

Not so. It's as if the Tigers have picked up the pace, fueled in large measure by players such as Zeringue who have worked hard to develop their skills. If Zeringue eventually breaks Hawpe's doubles record, it's not because Zeringue set that as a goal and focused on the achievement. It will have come in the course of Zeringue adding what he can to the Tigers' attack.

So far, Zeringue has added plenty with his power and poise. A double dose of danger. Add in Hill's contribution, and Zeringue is the perfectly packaged power hitter.


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