LSU Tigers head baseball coach Paul Mainieri. (Associated Press)
Last Modified: Friday, March 14, 2014 1:08 PM
If LSU baseball isn’t ready for the start of Southeastern Conference play tonight, it won’t be because the Tigers haven’t played everybody.
It may well be because LSU hasn’t really played much of anybody yet.
Playing everything on the roster, including spare parts, is one of the traits, tried and true, of Paul Mainieri’s annual master plan.
If you go to play at LSU, you don’t have to worry about collecting cobwebs on the bench just because somebody beat you out. Mainieri will find something for you to do.
He believes in using the whole roster.
He was also born to tinker — it goes on all year, not just in pre-SEC schedule — and normally it works out in the end.
For now, with one of the key series of the season starting tonight at Vanderbilt, nobody is absolutely sure what LSU’s starting lineup is.
It will work itself out.
Through 18 games, 16 position players have seen the field — and not just token, mop-up action. All have started at least one game and 13 of them have started five or more games. There have been 13 pitchers used.
This is in stark contrast to the way the master, Skip Bertman, did it back when, outside of an occasional righty-lefty platoon, being on the LSU bench was akin to being in the witness protection program or at least a good place to skip class without getting caught.
It doesn’t mean one way is better than the other. It was different game back in Bertman’s Gorilla Ball era, when the Tigers were loaded up with nuclear bats and rarely found cause for, say, a pinch runner, rarely a pinch hitter and defense wasn’t enough of a priority for late-inning subs.
But Mainieri does seem more prone to tinker, never quite satisfied with the status quo.
Take 2009, for instance, with the Tigers cruising in midseason, when he overhauled LSU’s infield when nobody else suspected it was broken. But, with double plays suddenly an option, it turned out to be the key to making an already good team into a national championship team.
So it works, and it’s also fun never knowing who might end up being a game’s hero or goat.
The sad thing is that, this time of year, he has the luxury of doing it without fear.
Nothing is sillier than college baseball’s laundry list of polls, but taking four of them at random you can find the Tigers anywhere from No. 3 to No. 6 to No. 8.
Everything looks to be in order for a 16-2 team.
The team batting average is .312, including three of the top five hitters in the SEC, led by newcomer Kade Scivicque leading them all at .435.
I was thinking it had to be the most anemic power team yet for LSU, but, in this day and age, eight home runs is good enough for fourth in the SEC rankings.
The team ERA is 1.53, with seven shutouts.
What’s not to like there?
But does anybody really have a clue how good LSU is at this point?
What victory was most impressive, other than anything Aaron Nola has pitched?
One could make the argument that LSU had no business losing any of them, except that the game is baseball and one of its quirks is that there’s really no such thing a bona fide upset.
Still, the four weekend series have featured severely outmanned opponents or Northern teams lured south by the promise of finally thawing out and rolling in real grass, a promise that wasn’t always kept this season.
Plus, tonight’s trip to Vanderbilt will be the Tigers’ first game outside the state of Louisiana.
LSU did play one ranked team, mostly by accident — Lafayette-Lafayette happened to be ranked and happened to be right next door.
The Tigers lost that game. You’re free to put an asterisk by it since LSU only got five at-bats before the rains came and shortened it, but it’s still a loss.
Vanderbilt hasn’t played any ranked teams, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.
The Commodores sprung for airfare to fly out West for a three-game sweep of Long Beach State, a team unranked but no stranger to Omaha. Vandy then hosted another College World Series regular, and swept Stanford, too.
The Commodores’ intentions were good, even if the opponents didn’t hold up their end of the bargains.
Going into conference play, though, South Carolina has easily been the most impressive.
The Gamecocks are 16-0 with nine shutouts, including a three-game sweep of a ranked Clemson team.
LSU can’t really start proving itself until this weekend.
But Mainieri will be tinkering. You can count on that.
Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org