The LSU baseball team is regrouping after losing a series for the first time this season when South Carolina won two out of three games last weekend.
The Tigers have lost consecutive games for the first time this season as the Gamecocks rebounded from a 5-2 loss Friday to win 4-2 on Saturday and 4-0 on Sunday.
The team didn’t practice Monday, though several players chose to work out on their own, and coach Paul Mainieri offered pep talks to individuals as they passed through Alex Box Stadium.
“Most people think that when you’re playing well, you can’t wait to get to the field the next day and play again, but I think of it the opposite way,” Mainieri said Monday. “When the players have a disappointment, I think the sooner we get on the field, the better. You want to wash a bitter taste out of your mouth as quickly as you can.”
LSU gets that opportunity when it plays McNeese State at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in Alex Box Stadium. That begins a regular season-ending stretch of 11 games in 19 days as the final three Southeastern Conference series are Thursday-Saturday sets, beginning with Florida’s visit to The Box this week.
“This certainly is not a time for anybody to be hanging their heads or feeling sorry for themselves,” Mainieri said. “All of our goals are still out there, and we’ll be OK.”
The Tigers (39-6, 16-5 SEC) dropped from No. 2 to No. 3 in the polls Monday.
LSU will start sophomore left-hander Cody Glenn, who will be limited to likely two innings because he’ll return to the rotation Saturday against Florida.
Junior right-hander Kurt McCune, who hadn’t pitched more than three innings in any of his previous five appearances after returning from a back injury, replaced Glenn in the rotation against South Carolina on Sunday.
McCune lasted just 2.2 innings after yielding six hits and three runs.
“It was obviously a decision that didn’t work out,” Mainieri said. “I thought Kurt would do a much better job than he ended up doing. He didn’t take advantage of the opportunity.”
Mainieri said he was looking ahead to the possibility of McCune possibly starting an NCAA regional opener if the Tigers were to be a No. 1 seed opening against a No. 4 seed.
“He’d be a strike thrower against a fourth seed, and he’s experienced pitching the opening game of a weekend,” Mainieri said. “But I couldn’t do that if he doesn’t get a chance to extend himself some.
“If all he’s ever done is pitch two innings, how do you start a guy on the opening day of a regional? I’m still not sure that’s not something I might do, but obviously Kurt had a tough time (Sunday) and it didn’t work out. So we’re going to adapt our thinking.”
Mainieri said outfield Mark Laird would be back in the lineup Tuesday after not starting Sunday for just the second time this season. Laird had just 16 hits in his past 82 at-bats (.195) before coming off the bench Sunday and lining a single to left.
“I’m going to stick with Mark Laird; I’ve stuck with him the whole year,” Mainieri said. “I took him out (Sunday) because I just thought he needed a blow. Maybe just sitting out a few innings helped him, because he hit a tough lefty, and that was his best swing in a month.”
Whether Laird starts in center or right depends on whether Mainieri puts Andrew Stevenson in center or Jared Foster in right. Stevenson and Laird give the Tigers their best defensive lineup, but Stevenson is hitting just .172.
“How much offense can you sacrifice to make sure you have your best defensive team?” Mainieri said.
The Tigers have lost three of their past four SEC games, and part of the reason is they have committed nine of the 14 errors they’ve made in conference play during the past two weekends.
“I think our defense the last couple of weekends has made a difference in a negative way,” Mainieri said.
The Tigers offense has been subpar of late, especially the heart of the order. In addition to Laird struggling in the second spot, Alex Bregman in the third, Mason Katz in the fourth and Raph Rhymes in the fifth have all cooled off to some degree.
Bregman has four hits in his past 21 at-bats, Katz doesn’t have an RBI in the past 11 games or a home run in the past 17, and Rhymes was 4-for-12 with no RBIs against South Carolina.
LSU went 2-for-12 with runners in scoring position in Saturday’s loss and drew just one walk in the back-to-back losses.
“I’ve been around the game forever,” Mainieri said, “and there’s nobody I know who stays hot all year. Everybody goes through some lulls.”
On the flip side, JaCoby Jones (5-for-10), Foster (5-for-11) and leadoff hitter Sean McMullen (5-for-12) all were productive against the Gamecocks.
Mainieri said the hitters in the middle of the order have track records that suggest the lull will be short-lived.
He said he called Bregman at 10 a.m. Monday, knowing he was already out of class, but got no answer because Bregman was in the batting cage hitting off a tee.