LSU strikes out into series with Vandy, ’Dores boast SEC’s top pitching staff

Scooter Hobbs

It’s probably not what LSU would have ordered to get its struggling baseball season turned around.

But No. 1-ranked Vanderbilt is going to Alex Box Stadium anyway for a three-game Southeastern Conference series beginning tonight.

The Commodores (20-3, 5-1 SEC) bring in the conference’s top hitting team (.309) and by far the best pitching staff — a 2.19 ERA compared to No. 2 Mississippi State at 2.97.

On paper it doesn’t look like a good spot for LSU (17-8, 1-5), which is coming off a particularly frustrating weekend at Tennessee where the Tigers lost the three games by a total of four runs.

“I know we’re a little bit snakebit right now,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “I do think we’re real close.

“We obviously can hit pitching in this league.”

That will be a challenge against Vandy.

The standout is Jack Leiter, the son of former major leaguer Al Leiter, who hasn’t given up a hit in SEC play.

He threw a complete-game no-hitter two weeks ago against South Carolina and was pulled last week after seven innings of hitless work against Missouri.

And that’s the Commodores’ No. 2 pitcher — LSU won’t see him until 8 p.m. Friday (ESPNU).

First up is Kumar Rocker (6-0, 0.73), the star of Vanderbilt’s 2019 national championship run.

“I think the biggest shock is that they both came to college,” Mainieri said. “Generally kids of this level sign (pro) out of high school.”

One of them, Mainieri predicted, will be the No. 1 pick in the next draft.

“I’m just not sure which one,” Mainieri said. But “we’re not going to cower down.”

In fact, Mainieri had a simple message for his hitters:

“Your aspirations are to play in the major leagues? This is the kind of pitcher you’re going to face. You either rise up and meet the challenge or you better taper down what your career aspirations are.”

Making contact would be a start on that career decision.

The Tigers struck out 38 times in the three games at Tennessee — an alarming 13 per game — which isn’t that far off the season norm of 9.0 per game.

It concerns Mainieri, as does the number of walks his pitchers give up — 19 at Tennessee, along with four hit batsmen.

“I don’t know if I’ve had a team that has struck out as much,” he said. “Higher rate from what I’m used to. But if you look around our league, a lot of teams are striking out a lot.”

However, only Texas A&M and Tennessee have struck out more than the Tigers’ 218.

Part of it, Mainieri said, is the way the game has changed — hard throwers, hard swingers.

“It’s not the kind of baseball that I grew up with nor do I particularly like,” Mainieri said. “I don’t like to see walks and strikeouts. I like to see the ball put in play, just as a baseball aficionado.

“A lot of it is that the quality arms … but harder throwers, comes with pitchers who walk batters too.”

The worst example was the Tigers’ 9-8 loss in 10 innings of the middle game — five of the Vols’ nine runs reached base on a walk.

“The walk, it generally bites you,” Mainieri said. “It can come back to haunt you.

“We’re going to continue to try to combat both of those (strikeouts and walks), but it’s frustrating.”

LSU leads the nation in home runs with 44, but the wind is forecast to be blowing in for the series and the Tigers have often struggled to score any other way.

“With the wind blowing in, I have this sense that the games are going to be low scoring and close,” Mainieri said.

Pitching Matchups

6:30 p.m. Today

VU, RH Kumar Rocker (6-0, 0.73 ERA, 37.0 IP, 12 BB, 53 SO) vs. LSU, RH Landon Marceaux (2-2, 0.26 ERA, 35.0 IP, 9 BB, 44 SO).

8 p.m. Friday (ESPNU)

VU, RH Jack Leiter (6-0, 0.25 ERA, 36.0 IP, 13 BB, 59 SO) vs. LSU, RH Jaden Hill (2-2, 6.35 ERA, 28.1 IP, 10 BB, 23 SO).

2 p.m. Saturday

VU, RH Thomas Schultz (3-0, 1.65 ERA, 27.1 IP, 7 BB, 33 SO) vs. LSU RH A.J. Labas (1-0, 2.97 ERA, 33.1 IP, 6 BB, 30 SO).””LSU baseball

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