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Friday, May 22, 2009

Depth everywhere

BATON ROUGE - A player who had batted only 11 times in 34 previous games hit a three-run home run for LSU Thursday before his name could even be announced by the stadium announcer.

Derek Helenihi, a senior from Livermore, Calif., gave the second-ranked Tigers a 9-3 lead over Alabama in the bottom of the seventh inning, and that was a good thing because LSU barely held on for a 9-6 win in the Southeastern Conference Tournament at Regions Park in Hoover, Ala.

The Tigers (42-16) will play at approximately 6:30 tonight against No. 20 South Carolina (38-20), which lost 5-4 to Vanderbilt in a late winners' bracket game on Thursday night. LSU will have ace senior right-hander Louis Coleman (10-2, 2.99 ERA) on the mound. The Tigers have been in Hoover since Monday, and they are just now going to their ace. That's depth.

Helenihi would be starting for most other SEC teams, but not at LSU. He started at third base for LSU last season as it reached the College World Series in Omaha, Neb. He batted .295 with 43 RBIs, three home runs and four triples, but he struggled late in the season. He opened the season at third base this season, but his batting average dipped below .300. And seniority apparently gets one nowhere with LSU coach Paul Mainieri, who quickly put freshman sensation Tyler Hanover at third base and sent Helenihi to the bench. And Mainieri was not getting ready for next year. As always, he was and is getting ready for this year.

Hanover is hitting .312 with four homers and 43 RBIs through 47 starts and 56 games and has been a clutch hitter. Helenihi is batting .303 with three homers and 16 RBIs in 18 starts and 32 games. Hanover has been making some errors in the field, but a return to third for Helenihi is not likely. Neither is a spot in the outfield, where he also plays. The Tigers are overflowing with talent in the outfield already. Chad Jones was drafted in the 13th round by the Houston Astros in 2008 as an outfielder, and would have gone higher if football was not so much in his plans, and he cannot find even spot duty in the outfield.

Laron Landry, a web gem master in center field last season during the Tigers' run to Omaha, hit three home runs last Saturday and has his once low average up to .302 with 12 homers and 40 RBIs, but he's not even a regular starter in the outfield anymore. He's ticketed for platoon duty in left field against right-handed pitchers only.

Freshman Mikie Mahtook took Landry's old spot in center field at mid-season when Landry slumped. Jared Mitchell, who started his LSU career in center in 2007 and moved to left last season when Landry took over center, finds himself in right field nowadays with Ryan Schimpf in left field. Schimpf was the regular second baseman until last month when Mainieri moved regular shortstop DJ LeMahieu - another 2008 veteran - to second base so he could put freshman Austin Nola, who has more range, at shortstop next to fellow freshman Tyler Hanover.

Schimpf, meanwhile, plays first base when Landry plays left field, a platoon which moves senior first baseman Sean Ochinko, one of the team's hottest hitters early this season, to the bench.

A guest on a popular Baton Rouge radio show said the other day that it is too late in the season for Mainieri to be juggling his lineup so much. The guest in question knows a lot about football, which he usually discusses. He needs to stick to football.

The fact that Mainieri juggles and inserts new starters and re-inserts old starters is precisely why LSU has been so successful this season. Filling out the lineup card with the same players every day worked great for Sparky Anderson and the Red Machine in the 1970s, but it's not the only way to win. A regular lineup is overrated.

Mainieri changes his lineup as often as he does his socks and there is always a good reason for it. He will continue to do so. And LSU will continue to win.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

FYI - LaRon Landry played safety for LSU football. Leon is the current baseball player. Ditto for Glenbeau's column today [June 3].

5:15 AM  
Blogger Glenn Guilbeau said...

My bad. I think I've made that mistake a half-dozen times this year. Good catch. But hey, both are center fielders. For the last time, LaRon Landry played football at LSU, and Leon Landry plays baseball at LSU.

7:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're right; they're both center fielders. Besides, as close as their names are, a 1/2 dozen times is not bad.

4:23 PM  

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