Rabalais: Give Javi Sanchez his due for hot-hitting Tigers’ surge

HOOVER, Ala. — The LSU Tigers are on a hitting surge not seen since the Geaux, Geaux days of molten metal bats in the late 1990s.

Six straight games of 11 hits or more each time out. Seventy-four runs. Eighty-eight hits combined. All in a total of 49 innings.

There have been a lot of theories put forward as to why the Tigers offense has suddenly revved into overdrive after a season of scuffling and scraping to string together hits and push across runs. They include:

1. School is out.

2. The weather is warmer.

3. Jack Bauer is back.

Little if any of the conjecture includes the notion that LSU hitting coach Javi Sanchez is good at his job.

If you are one of those LSU baseball fans who believes Sanchez is a bad hitting coach, should be fired or at least be forced to suffer through the pain and anguish of an IRS audit, then you will not enjoy reading the rest of this column. I invite you to flip over to our coverage of the state legislature or scan the classifieds to find a puppy.

Being criticized is part of the job description for a hitting coach. In a facet of a sport where even the best hitters will fail 70 percent of the time, there can never be enough hitting. Therefore, a hitting coach can often never do a good enough job to keep his job.

“In the major leagues, the coaches who get fired the most are the hitting coaches,” said Paul Mainieri, Sanchez’s boss.

Mainieri knows the slings and arrows are part of the business.

“But I get a little irritated sometimes when I think it’s unfair,” he said. “If you’re going to criticize when things aren’t going well, you should give them credit when things are going well.

“Raph Rhymes led the country in hitting (in 2012). I didn’t hear anyone saying it was because of Javi. Mason Katz led the SEC in home runs last year. How many people gave Javi credit for that? All of a sudden we’re scoring a bazillion runs — we haven’t been shut out all year.”

For his part, Sanchez doesn’t lobby with facts and figures. He’s accepted what comes with coaching a highly scrutinized position at a highly successful program like LSU.

“Where a lot is given, a lot is demanded,” Sanchez said as he sat in the Samford University dugout Friday during LSU’s off-day practice at the Southeastern Conference tournament. “It’s a beautiful thing. We’ve led the nation in attendance the last 17 years. It’s held to a high standard.

“I have the privilege to work here at the best program. That comes with the territory. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve got a thicker skin and don’t listen to it as much.”

As a general rule, coaches get too much credit and too much blame. And it definitely is the players who have to make contact and shoot the ball into the gaps or punch it over the wall.

But you have to have the players to do the job. And being LSU’s recruiting coordinator is also on Sanchez’s full plate.

“He was one of the reasons I came to LSU,” shortstop Alex Bregman said. “He saw me play in Dallas and for Team USA and asked me to come down for a visit. He recruited most everyone here. He’s a great guy.”

Some of Sanchez’s harshest critics will say he’s on Mainieri’s staff because he’s Mainieri’s guy. Both are natives of Miami, and Sanchez was a starting shortstop on Mainieri’s 2002 College World Series team at Notre Dame.

“They’re probably right,” Mainieri said. “(Pitching coach) Alan Dunn is my guy. And (assistant) Will Davis. And every other assistant that’s been with me. But I would never sacrifice competence and ability because of loyalty.”

Some might think that’s a line, but it’s a foolish thought. Head coaches don’t get to be head coaches for as long as Mainieri has been one (32 years) if they’re not good judges of assistants and good at self-preservation.

“The only thing worse than criticism is apathy,” Mainieri said. “And we don’t have apathetic fans. I love our fans, but you’re never going to make everyone happy.”

Saturday, LSU returns to action in the SEC tournament semifinals against a scrappy underdog Arkansas team playing its fifth game in as many days. As the tournament field shrinks, so does pitching depth, meaning hitting well becomes even more critical.

Javi’s hitters will have to continue to press the attack. If they stay hot, they’ll get all the credit. If they don’t, their coach likely will get the blame.

That’s the way of the LSU baseball world. And Sanchez has been in it long enough to know it’s not likely to change.

Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.