LSU second baseman JaCoby Jones began this season looking like the most improved hitter on the team.
During the first five games, he batted .417 (5-for-12) with a team-leading two home runs. But heading into Saturday night’s game against Washington at Alex Box Stadium, Jones batted just .129 (4-for-31) over the past nine games.
Tigers coach Paul Mainieri and hitting coach Javi Sanchez said before the season that they’d seen a much more disciplined Jones in fall and preseason practice. He was doing a better job of laying off bad pitches, they siad, and thereby getting ahead in counts and being more effective in two-strike counts.
That discipline showed up consistently during the first five games, but Jones hasn’t shown it as consistently since.
“Every so often, he reverts back and chases bad balls and shows impatience and frustration at the plate,” Mainieri said, “but overall, I think he’s been a much more mature hitter.”
Jones, who walked only 15 times in 270 plate appearances last season, has walked 12 times in 58 plate appearances this season. So he is indeed being more selective.
Mainieri noted that Jones has “hit several balls on the nose” that have gone for outs. That happened twice in Friday’s 9-4 victory against Washington, as a hard-hit grounder was turned into a fielder’s choice, and another drive — the hardest-hit ball of the night by an LSU batter — was caught on the run in deep right-center.
Jones was dropped from No. 6 in the order to No. 7 Friday. He stayed in the No. 7 spot Saturday.
“The thing that JaCoby just has to keep remembering is he can’t allow himself to get frustrated where one at bat with bad luck carries into additional at bats and then he loses confidence,” Mainieri said. “That’s what he has to grow out of.”
Reliever Nick Rumbelow has gradually worked his way into a setup role after missing the first seven games because of a strained muscle in his side. He made his debut by pitching one scoreless inning in an 11-2 victory at Louisiana-Lafayette on Feb. 26. Three days later, Rumbelow gave up a hit and a run in one-third of an inning during a 4-3 victory against Brown.
Rumbelow threw two perfect innings as the starter in a 10-2 victory against Sacred Heart on Wednesday and was perfect in 1.2 innings Friday.
He relieved starter Aaron Nola with the Tigers leading 6-4 and runners on first and second with one out in the seventh. Rumbelow got a strikeout and pop-up to end the threat, then had a perfect eighth.
Rumbelow and Joey Bourgeois will be the primary setup guys for closer Chris Cotton moving forward.
“I’m getting more comfortable,” Rumbelow said. “It’s a process, and from each outing, I think the pitches are going where I want them more and more.”
Prior to the season opener, Mainieri was effusive in his praise of freshman shortstop Alex Bregman as his new No. 3 hitter. He cautioned, however, that Bregman wasn’t as good defensively as last year’s shortstop, Austin Nola, whom Mainieri has often said is the best defensive shortstop he has coached in 30 years.
Bregman has lived up to his billing as a hitter, batting .375 and driving in 12 runs through Friday night’s game. But he also has exceeded the defensive scouting report, fielding his position flawlessly until committing his first error of the season against Washington.
“He’s played tremendous defense,” Mainieri said. “I think he took it as a real challenge from me when I said he’s pretty good but he’s not quite Nola at shortstop. I think he likes to be challenged. He likes people to tell him that he can’t do things so he can go prove to you that he can.”
Freshman right-hander Mitchell Sewald of Rummel High School is the only healthy LSU pitcher who has not made an appearance.
Mainieri said pitching coach Alan Dunn has worked with Dewald on his development, try to get him ready to pitch in a game. Don’t look for his debut this weekend, Mainieri said, but Sewald isn’t totally out of the picture.
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