Slumping Tigers to try aggressive approach at UF

Advocate staff photo by John Oubre LSU's Alex Bregman watches his hit on Saturday night against Georgia at Alex Box stadium. Show caption
Advocate staff photo by John Oubre LSU's Alex Bregman watches his hit on Saturday night against Georgia at Alex Box stadium.

Enough with this small ball stuff.

Swing away, boys.

LSU coach Paul Mainieri has found what he believes is the solution for his team’s two-week long hitting slump.

“I’ve got to let the kids go up there,” he said, “and let it rip.”

That’s the slogan the Tigers and their skidding offense take to Florida for a three-game series set to begin Friday against the Gators.

In interviews with reporters Thursday, Mainieri saddled himself with the blame for LSU’s recent hitting woes, a slump that reached new lows with Tuesday’s loss at Tulane.

The coach said he has “confused” his players by implementing more of a small-ball scheme lately.

That’s about to change.

“Personally, I’ve struggled a little bit with how much small ball to play,” Mainieri said. “I think what I’ve done is taken the aggressiveness out of our hitters. I think we need to get back to playing … the style of play Paul Mainieri grew up with. And that is to be an aggressive, attacking offense.”

The Tigers (20-5-1, 3-2-1 Southeastern Conference) meet the Gators (16-9, 3-3 SEC) while mired in the worst offensive slump in Mainieri’s eight years leading the program.

Tuesday’s five-hit performance in a 3-2 loss to the Green Wave only exacerbated a problem that began with the SEC opener at Vanderbilt on March 14.

LSU’s 10 most-used fielders are batting .206 over the last nine games, and four of them are hitting .200 or worse.

That includes shortstop Alex Bregman, who’s 4 of 29 (.136) during that stretch.

Mainieri has made Bregman unavailable to the media for at least the next week, something the coach has never done in his time in Baton Rouge.

LSU’s 58 hits over the last nine games – that’s 6.3 a game – are the lowest over a nine-game stretch in the Mainieri era.

The Tigers had 60 hits through nine games in 2011, but LSU scored 38 runs through that skid. That’s nine more than this year’s total of 29.

“It’s been tough,” center fielder Andrew Stevenson said.

There’s no panic or finger-pointing, Mainieri and players say. But there will be a change in philosophy: Let it rip.

“Coach talked to us about that, trying to be more aggressive at the plate this weekend,” third baseman Christian Ibarra said.

Mainieri, outspoken about the decline of offense in baseball, has played more small ball this season than ever before. The Tigers have 27 sacrifice hits, about halfway to the school record less than halfway through the regular season.

Between laying down bunts and taking walks at the dish, the Tigers have been too “passive” in their offensive scheme, Mainieri said.

“I think I’ve confused the kids a little bit, trying to make them very selective at the plate and then when we get into clutch situations want them to be able to come through and be confidence and aggressive,” he said. “I think that’s a conflict for young kids. They don’t necessarily know how to balance those ideas together.”

In an attempt to ignite his offense, Mainieri has shuffled the top of his batting order during the last two games, moving Bregman out of the No. 3 hole for the first time in his college career.

Sean McMullen has moved from lead-off to the No. 3 hole, and Mark Laird has replaced him batting No. 1. Bregman has been batting second.

It’s unclear if the order will remain the same for the trip to Florida.

All participants seem happy in their new homes. The trio is a combined 5 of 16 batting in the new order, with all of the hits coming in a 2-2 tie with Georgia on Sunday.

They were 0 for 11 Tuesday against Tulane.

“We need to be more aggressive at the plate,” Laird said. “We’re ready for the weekend. If we see a ball down the middle of the plate, we’re going to try to attack it and drive it somewhere.”

Bregman’s woes are shocking.

He’s rated by Baseball America as the top MLB prospect in the SEC for the 2015 season, and he’s a year removed from batting .369 as a true freshman.

“I know he’s up here every day working hard,” Laird said. “He’s going to rise up.”

Mainieri stood behind his star shortstop, while Bregman walked around a hoard of reporters as the team loaded into the bus for the airport Thursday.

“The kid right now is feeling the weight of the world on his shoulders,” the coach said. “I had several meetings with him yesterday, trying to get him back into the right mental approach. He doesn’t have the answers right now. He’s 19 years old. He’s trying to figure it out himself.”