MOORMANN: Meier's slump most upsetting

For all the problems during the baseball team's recent slump, the most troubling seems to be that of sophomore right-hander Justin Meier.

From his role as ace of the pitching staff, Meier steadily has dissolved into someone whose main contribution has been to pinch-run as he did in the second game of last weekend's series with Arkansas. Meier scored, too, which is all well good, except that he'd better serve LSU if he could stop others from getting runs rather than scoring himself.

Signs of trouble appeared earlier this season, even though Meier breezed through his first three starts in holding the opposition to four hits and one run in each appearance. Meier managed to handcuff Texas State through 7 1/3 innings on Feb. 27, despite getting the ball up in the strike zone.

Coach Smoke Laval classified that outing as "average again." That certainly isn't good enough from your No. 1 pitcher, particularly now that Lane Mestepey has gone from No. 2 to trying to work his way back into the rotation. Worse yet, Meier isn't even pitching as well as he did early in the year.

At that point, Meier was "a very, very good college pitcher," said Laval, who wanted more from last year's Freshman All-America. "Let's take that to the next level," Laval said, "and be one of the three best in the country. He's capable of that."

Right now, LSU might settle on having Meier as one of the three best of its staff, or on becoming "a very, very good college pitcher" again. As it is, Meier isn't fooling anyone and is struggling to get hitters out. After having allowed 11 hits a game in back-to-back performances, Meier reduced that total against Arkansas. That's also because he pitched only 1 1/3 innings and had yielded six hits and seven runs before being replaced.

Granted, four of the runs were unearned, but Meier lacked a dependable out pitch.

"Our Friday night guy can't even get out of the second inning for the third time in a row" without having runs scored on him, Laval said.

Meier isn't to blame for LSU's team-wide slump, but the No. 1 pitcher sets the tone for each weekend series, and right now it appears the Tigers don't know what to except from Meier, let alone from themselves. It seems to be a crapshoot every time they take the field. One weekend it might be nail-biting pitching duels, as it was at Auburn. The next weekend it might deteriorate into error-filled, slugfests, as happened last weekend at Alex Box Stadium.

"I don't know, to be honest with you," junior center fielder J.C. Holt said of the Tigers' woes. "It seems when the pitching's there, the hitting isn't, and when the hitting's there, the pitching isn't."

The Tigers need to push themselves, not be pushed around. Rather than needing to mount ninth-inning rallies, which they did in six consecutive games, LSU should take care of business as quickly as possible. As experienced as they are, the Tigers should know that by now. If the Tigers ultimately use this slump as a learning tool, more power to them. If not, they could be in for a long, disappointing season.

As for Meier, "he's got to overcome" whatever it is he's doing wrong, Laval said. "If he can't pitch and win, we're in trouble."

Unless Meier comes to grips with that, LSU will be hard-pressed to return to No. 1 in the country again. Of course, right now, LSU is hardly the No. 1 team in the Southeastern Conference Western Division, let alone in America.

To watch Meier in the bullpen is to see someone with all his mechanics in order, Laval said. Once the game begins, though, Meier drops his right elbow, Laval said. This has led both to a reduction in the speed of Meier's pitches and the flattening out of his slider.

Even Arkansas, which had been 10th in the league in hitting, can jump on a pitcher's offerings when that happens.

"He knows what he's doing wrong," said an obviously perturbed Laval said.

The others do, too. They're getting sloppy in the field and careless at the plate to the point that they stranded 14 baserunners in the second game against Arkansas.

"I just think maybe we're not focused enough at the beginning of the games," said junior infielder Blake Gill in trying to pinpoint a reason for the Tigers' swoon.

"Some people are going to have to do some soul-searching," Holt said.

That, alone, won't cure LSU's ills, but it's a start. As a slump intensifies, players tend to press even more. They become individualistic in trying to do too much, instead of relying on the help of their teammates.

The Tigers need to relax, play through whatever it is that has them in its grip, and hopefully come out better than ever on the other side.

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