HOOVER, Ala. — Off-the-field developments forced LSU coach Paul Mainieri to juggle personnel at catcher for the final two weeks of the regular season.
Thursday at the Southeastern Conference tournament, Mainieri could see the upside.
Ty Ross returned to the starting lineup for the first time since undergoing a May 12 appendectomy and had two hits and two RBIs in his first three at-bats. Tyler Moore moved back to first base after subbing for Ross at catcher in recent games and went 1-for-2 with two RBIs.
Jordy Snikeris, who had been limited late in the regular season with a bruised finger on his right hand, went 2-for-2 with a homer, a double and four RBIs. He also slid back behind the plate for the eighth and ninth innings — his first action behind the plate in seven days.
“Tyler Moore has done a great job, and Snikeris did a great job when he was in there,” Mainieri said. “But Ty Ross is just a tad better because he has the total package.
I think it’s a huge upside, because there’s no panic on the team right now regardless of who’s behind the plate.”
Combined, Ross, Moore and Snikeris were 5-for-9 on Thursday with eight RBIs.
Ross got his first at-bat since the Vanderbilt series May 11-13 when he struck out to end Wednesday’s loss to Mississippi State. He returned behind the plate Thursday.
Moore or Snikeris, who has regularly been used as LSU’s designated hitter against left-handed pitchers, could have the gear on Friday against Mississippi State if Mainieri decides to use Ross as a DH rather than as the catcher.
“My inkling is that he probably won’t catch tomorrow,” Mainieri said of Ross.
Sophomore ace Kevin Gausman won his 10th game of the season Thursday, becoming the first LSU pitcher since Louis Coleman and Anthony Ranaudo to reach double-figure wins.
Coleman went 14-2 in 2009, and Ranaudo went 12-3 that same year.
“You could tell just from breakfast everybody was excited about the game and wanted to win,” Gausman said. “We definitely brought that to the ballpark today.”
The LSU record for single-season wins is held by Paul Byrd, who won 17 games in 1990.
LSU senior Tyler Hanover, a four-year starter, went 4-for-5 on Thursday to set a personal record for hits in a single game.
But the box score can only say so much. The remnants of the scrappy, 5-foot-6 third baseman’s big day at Regions Park were written all over his dirty uniform.
Hanover even had a hole ripped into the right leg of his game pants.
“I’m so happy to see Hanover so dirty like that,” Mainieri said with a laugh. “That’s what a ballplayer’s supposed to look like.”
Hanover’s hustle came into play as he stole third base in the second inning, stretched a single into a head-first double in the fourth and beat out an infield single in the eighth.
“It’s very inspiring to our team to see a little guy like him playing so well,” Mainieri said. “He might have been the best guy on the field today and yet the smallest.”
With the four hits, Hanover moved into a tie with Russ Johnson for 10th on LSU’s all-time list with 269 for his career.
Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco hoped to start right-hander R.J. Hively against LSU, but a sore arm prevented Hively from pitching. He threw six relief innings against the Tigers and gave up four hits and two runs, taking the loss in LSU’s 4-3, 13-inning win on May 4 in Oxford.
“He’s feeling better,” Bianco said. “I feel very confident that he’ll be able to pitch in a regional, but he just wasn’t able to go today.”
Instead, Bianco started Tanner Bailey, who had thrown two innings of scoreless relief and gotten a victory in the Rebels’ 7-4 triumph against the Tigers on May 5. On Thursday, Bailey got the loss after giving up seven hits and three runs in three innings.
LSU broke open Thursday’s game with seven runs over the final two innings, but the Tigers spent most of the afternoon putting their small game to work.
Mason Katz reached on a bunt single in the first with runners at first and second. Moore drove home Austin Nola with a sacrifice fly to center.
Arby Fields moved runners in the second and sixth with sacrifice bunts and moved Hanover to third with a groundout to first in the fourth. Grant Dozar scored Hanover from third with a squeeze bunt that pitcher Aaron Greenwood couldn’t secure in time to make a play at the plate.
Right-hander Ryan Eades will start for LSU against Mississippi State on Friday. Eades got a victory against the Bulldogs on March 17, giving up just one run on eight hits in seven innings of a 4-3 victory.
Mainieri hopes to get an extended outing from Eades because if LSU advances to play again on Saturday, he plans on turning that game over to the bullpen. Chris Cotton threw one inning Thursday, but he needed just seven pitches, after throwing one inning (11 pitches) Wednesday. Kurt McCune threw his only inning of the tourney Thursday, and closer Nick Goody has yet to pitch.
“Most of the bullpen will be available (Friday),” Mainieri said. “I like the way we’re set up if Eades can get the job done.”
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