Mainieri to swap Rhymes, Katz in LSU batting order
LSU coach Paul Mainieri is tweaking his lineup for the home stretch.
The Tigers play 12 of their final 15 regular-season games at Alex Box Stadium, beginning with a game against Tulane at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.
The home crowd will notice a change in the heart of the batting order as Raph Rhymes and Mason Katz swap positions — Katz batting fourth and Rhymes fifth.
The move comes after a weekend in which Alabama twice intentionally walked Alex Bregman with a runner on second and one out to set up a double play. Both times, Rhymes followed by hitting into an inning-ending double play.
Mainieri said he was reluctant to sacrifice with Mark Laird in front of Bregman for fear that the Crimson Tide wouldn’t pitch to Bregman, who leads the Southeastern Conference in hitting with a .414 average.
“What’s obviously ... going to happen with Bregman now, because the word is out on him, is some teams are going to pitch around him,” Mainieri said. “If Raph is hitting well, he’s going to have a lot of hard-hit ground balls. Sometimes those ground balls find a hole, and sometimes they don’t.
“If those balls don’t find a hole and the double play is in order, Raph’s going to hit into a lot of double plays. Katz is more of an extra-base hitter and a fly-ball hitter.”
Rhymes has hit into five double plays — one more than Katz, and one fewer than Bregman’s team-high six.
When last season began, Rhymes was hitting third and Katz fourth. After Rhymes hit into a double play in the sixth game of the season against Appalachian State, Mainieri made the same swap.
“I think it’s time to do that again,” Mainieri said. “It’s not a reflection of a lack of confidence in Raph. Hopefully we’re putting Raph in a situation that’s more conducive to what he does well.”
Last season, Rhymes went on to lead the nation in batting average. He hit a school-record .431 and was named Southeastern Conference Player of the Year.
“Last year, we flip-flopped, and Raph went on to hit .431, so maybe he’ll do the exact same thing,” said Katz, who’s second in the nation with a career-high 60 RBIs.
Rhymes, who’s batting .327, said he’s excited about the change, which Mainieri explained to him before practice Tuesday.
“He explained to me the logic behind it, and it does make a lot of sense,” Rhymes said. “I’m all for the team, whatever can make us better.”
Katz could find himself in a different spot defensively, as well. Mainieri said he will start Tyler Moore against Tulane and likely into the SEC series against South Carolina this weekend.
He said he wouldn’t necessarily start Moore as the designated hitter, which is the spot Moore has occupied for eight of his 11 starts this season. In practice Tuesday, Katz took grounders at second, while Moore played Katz’s customary position at first.
Second baseman JaCoby Jones was benched in Sunday’s loss at Alabama after making his second error in as many nights and failing to run out a ground ball.
“Tyler Moore has done some good things for our program. He just hasn’t hit in the clutch enough this year to warrant him being an everyday player,” Mainieri said. “I’ve told him that, and I’ve challenged him and I’m going to give him another shot this week to see if (he’s an) everyday player for us.”
Several players have had opportunities to win a starting spot as either the DH or the third outfielder when Sean McMullen is the DH. Rhymes and Laird are mainstays in the outfield.
Moore, who bats left-handed, is hitting .302, primarily against right-handed pitchers. South Carolina’s weekend starters and top two relievers are all left-handed. Moore started 31 games as a freshman last season and batted .261 in 134 at-bats. He has just 53 at bats this season.
“It’s been a little different, but this is a different team,” Moore said. “That creates opportunities for different guys. This is my opportunity, and I think it’s a really good opportunity. I’m not going to try and do too much, just try and take advantage of this opportunity.”
Mainieri said he’ll start right-hander Kurt McCune and use him for two innings before using a “multitude” of relievers.
This will be a more conventional outing for McCune than the one last Saturday when he got the win with two scoreless innings of relief against Alabama.
McCune was charting the game as he was scheduled to start Sunday, but when the Tigers and Tide reached the 14th inning, Mainieri decided to use McCune.
“I went to Kurt and I said, ‘are you ready to pitch?’ ” Mainieri said. “He said, ‘Absolutely,’ put his chart down, put his cleats on and ran down to the bullpen and got himself ready. He came in and he threw the ball just tremendously.
“Once we got the lead, I knew he would dominate in the bottom of the 16th. I thought he threw the ball as well as I’ve ever seen him throw it in the 15th and 16th innings.”
McCune allowed one single and struck out two in two scoreless innings.
“I felt great intensity going into that game, and I think that helped me a lot,” McCune said. “I’m going to try and get hyped up like that again.”