In the four weeks since his team was eliminated from the College World Series, LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri has been asked many times if he would consider changing his offensive style to fit the spacious dimensions of TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb.
The questions flowed after LSU, which finished second in the Southeastern Conference in home runs and batting average, scored just three runs in back-to-back losses that brought a 57-win season to a sudden and shocking end.
On Monday, during his first news conference since returning from Omaha, Mainieri said he’s been asked if he will change things up to have a better chance of succeeding in the pitcher-friendly ballpark.
“My answer is a resounding no, we’re not going to change our style of play,” he said. “I think we know what it takes to win — and to win there — and it’s just a matter of putting the team together that can do that.”
Mainieri, whose team finished 57-11 this past season, said he could talk all day about the different style of play that wins in Omaha. But he said the only thing that matters is getting there and winning the title when it does.
“I thought we had that team put together this year … it just didn’t work out,” he said. “We were very competitive in the two games that we lost. … So I don’t think there’s a need to make wholesale changes. What we need is to play a little bit better and develop a few things a little bit better.”
Mainieri said he will continue to have a balanced offense that includes players who can create runs with the way they handle the bat and speed, players who can come up with clutch two-out hits, and, of course, players that can hit the ball out of the park.
“Making that happen and having that kind of lineup are two different things,” he said, “but we’re getting closer to having that.”
While more offense is needed when they get to Omaha, Mainieri said another important aspect to building a team that can win there is pitching.
He said the biggest priority during the recruitment process for the 17-man signing class that he officially announced Monday was on the mound after the Tigers lost seven of their top 11 pitchers from the 2013 squad.
Mainieri and pitching coach Alan Dunn said goodbye to four seniors and three underclassmen who signed pro contracts after combining for a 22-4 record and helped the team compile a 2.40 earned run average.
“That was a big reason why we got to Omaha,” Mainieri said of his staff.
Mainieri will look to 10 young arms to replace them, a group that includes right-handers Parker Bugg and Brady Domangue and left-handers Christian Pelaez, Zac Person and Jared Poche, a former Lutcher High School star.
A close second among Mainieri’s concerns was the need for depth on the infield even with freshman phenom Alex Bregman returning at shortstop and third baseman Christian Ibarra coming back for his senior season despite being drafted.
Mainieri believes they addressed that as well with the addition of freshmen Conner Hale and Danny Zardon, two players he thought they could lose in the draft, as well as Kramer Robertson.
While some of the youngsters will be asked to step in and replace departed starters Mason Katz and JaCoby Jones, Mainieri said he’s excited to see if sophomore catchers Chris Chinea and Michael Barash can emerge as the successor to Ty Ross after he signed a pro deal.
Mainieri talked about the decision to shut All-American pitcher Aaron Nola down this summer after he compiled a 12-1 record with a 1.57 ERA.
“I can promise you 100 percent there is nothing wrong with Aaron Nola,” he said. “That’s the whole goal of shutting him down: to make sure there is nothing wrong with Aaron Nola.”
The problem, Mainieri said, was Nola, who was chosen to play for Team USA this summer, pitched 126 innings this year after never throwing more than 90 innings. So the idea is to have him. along with lefty Cody Glenn after he threw 84 innings, fresh for fall workouts.
LSU announced its 56-game schedule for the 2014 season, which will begin on Feb. 14 with a game against New Orleans at Alex Box Stadium. The two teams will then play the next day on the UNO campus to celebrate the re-opening of Maestri Field.
The first four weekends of nonconference play also include a three-team round-robin with Virginia Tech, Toledo and Texas Southern and three-game sets with Yale and Purdue — all at home.
The Tigers will play SEC series against the other six teams in the SEC West — with Alabama Arkansas and Mississippi State at home and Auburn, Ole Miss and Texas A&M on the road.
They’ll also face SEC East foes Vanderbilt and Florida on the road and Georgia and Tennessee at home.
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