LSU baseball team is hot, and so is freshman Alex Bregman

LSU baseball team is blazing hot, and so is freshman shortstop Bregman

Advocate staff photo by CATHERINE THRELKELDLSU shortstop Alex Bregman throws to first base for an out during a game against Auburn last Sunday at Alex Box Stadium. Bregman, a freshman from Albuquerque, N.M., is batting .443 as the Tigers prepare for a three-game series at Missouri.
Advocate staff photo by CATHERINE THRELKELDLSU shortstop Alex Bregman throws to first base for an out during a game against Auburn last Sunday at Alex Box Stadium. Bregman, a freshman from Albuquerque, N.M., is batting .443 as the Tigers prepare for a three-game series at Missouri.

The red-hot LSU baseball team and its even hotter freshman shortstop Alex Bregman begin a Southeastern Conference series at Missouri on Friday.

The Tigers (23-2, 5-1) are tied for the best record in the SEC, and Bregman has the second-highest batting average (.443) in the league.

Bregman made his conference debut at Mississippi State two weeks ago and went a modest 4-for-14 with a home run and three RBIs. Then, last week at home against Auburn, Bregman went 9-for-13 with two RBIs.

When LSU stepped out of conference play to visit Tulane on Tuesday night, Bregman had four singles in four at-bats as the Tigers blasted the Green Wave 14-1 in a game shortened to eight innings.

That gave Bregman five consecutive games with at least three hits. He is batting .696 (16-for-23) during that stretch, with two doubles, four RBIs and nine runs scored.

“It’s hard to imagine that he’s done what he has done — really for anybody, much less a freshman,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said Thursday. “I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a kid get 16 hits in five games. It doesn’t surprise me, though, just because he hits the ball hard so often.”

After Tuesday’s game, Green Wave coach Rick Jones called Bregman “one of the great freshmen in the country — highly touted, and he was as billed.”

Jones continued: “I was very impressed with him, and I don’t know how you could not be.”

Now, Bregman gets a chance to show the folks in the Show Me State what he has shown Tigers opponents for the past 25 games.

Bregman has started every game and gotten a hit in 22 of them. He has multiple hits in 16 of them.

Senior outfielder Raph Rhymes, who flirted with a .500 batting average for much of last season before finishing with a school-record and NCAA Division I-best .431 average, hits immediately behind Bregman in the batting order.

“I can relate to what he’s feeling right now, and I’m happy for him,” Rhymes said. “Every time he seems to make good contact and the ball seems to find a hole. He squares the ball up just about every time. That’s why he’s so successful.”

Mason Katz, who follows Rhymes in the lineup, leads the nation in RBIs (41) — partly because Bregman always seems to be on base when he bats.

Bregman has eight doubles, two triples, two homers, 23 RBIs, seven stolen bases and 29 runs scored.

Katz attributed Bregman’s success to Bregman being the baseball equivalent of a gym rat.

“He’ll go in and hit at all times of the day,” Katz said. “When he gets bored he just comes and hits and he’ll text me four times a day and say, ‘I’m at the field hitting. You want to come?’ ”

Katz joins him, and after they’re finished, they’ll leave. Thirty minutes later, Katz says, he’ll find out that Bregman returned to the cages.

“He’s like, ‘Yeah, I got bored again,’ ” Katz said. “The guy hits nonstop. He doesn’t get tired.”

Katz said Bregman, like Rhymes, “makes any type of pitching look like a BP fastball.”

As much as Bregman likes baseball is about how much he dislikes answering questions about himself. His default setting is to credit his teammates for his success.

On Thursday, in fact, Bregman recalled having a similar hot streak while in high school in Albuquerque, N.M. Then he credited his high school teammates for that streak.

Certainly having Mark Laird (.369) batting immediately in front of him and Rhymes (.354) and Katz (.396) right behind him helps Bregman. But he’s the guy Mainieri put in the crucial No. 3 hole in the order, and he’s the guy leading the No. 2 team in the country in batting.

“I just love being around the game,” Bregman said. “I just love playing baseball. I just love strapping on those cleats and running out to the field. There’s a not a better thing to do in the world, and I just like to work at it.”

Lagniappe

Mainieri said left-handed-hitting Sean McMullen will bat leadoff Saturday and Sunday when Missouri is scheduled to throw right-handers. He’s not sure whether he’ll start McMullen as the designated hitter against left-hander Rob Zastryzny on Friday. The other option would be to make right-handed Chris Chinea the DH and lead off with either JaCoby Jones or Andrew Stevenson. … A victory Friday would match the record 24-2 starts by the 1986 Tigers team, which was 28-2 before losing its third game, and the ’97 team, which had its third loss in its 27th game. ... The target date for RH Kurt McCune (back injury) to make his season debut is April 10 against Southern. … Mainieri and Missouri coach Tim Jamieson played together at UNO. … This is LSU’s first trip to Missouri. It is 2-0 against Missouri in Baton Rouge, winning in 1986 and 1987.