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A DandyDon.com Q&A with LSU head baseball coach Paul Mainieri, Part 2
This is Part 2 of an interview conducted Tuesday, February 5, 2019. Here’s Part 1.
Scott: Moving over to defense, how is Garza progressing with his knee rehabilitation, and is there any update on when he’s expected to be able to get behind the plate and catch from a squatting position?
Paul: The knee is fine. He’s running full speed. He’s swinging the bat. He hasn’t had any issues at all, but the doctor is steadfast in wanting to wait until March before he gets down into a catching stance, just because the meniscus needs that time to be sure it heals totally and properly. It’s frustrating for me because we’re awfully thin behind the plate. In fact, I’ve made a decision… Mathis has been such a workhorse even in these scrimmages, and he’s getting kind of beat up with foul tips and the like so I’m not even going to catch him after Friday’s scrimmage. I’ll have him catch bullpens the rest of the way until Opening Day because I just can’t run the risk of anything happening to him physically because it would have a tremendous effect on our team until Garza comes back. Mathis has done really well behind the plate and is going to be a strength to our team, a real leader.
Scott: Back to those stats I mentioned in an earlier question, another thing that caught my eye was Chris Reid going 1-for-3 in last Saturday’s scrimmage, shortly after he rejoined the team. How’s he been since returning, and how’s it been to have him back?
Paul: I can’t adequately describe how happy I am to have him back. Chris is really a good kid and he’s got skills. He’s played almost a flawless third base in the two scrimmages, he’s had several plays, and every time he makes a play I breath easier knowing we have him back on the team. And that’s the biggest thing; I was very concerned about our backup infield situation for the left side of the infield. Someone who could go out there and make routine plays for us. If, No. 1, anybody were to get hurt between Hughes or Smith, and No. 2, if I just wanted to give either one of them a seat once in a while, or No. 3, if there was an injury. I didn’t have many options. Dugas and Bianco can hit good enough to play, but their defensive skills are not adequate enough that I could feel confident about either of them playing third base for a short term or extended period of time. So Chris coming back to the team has given us a security blanket of knowing that we have a good player who could step in at shortstop or third base, if necessary. Like I told the media when we brought him back, he could take ten years off and still step in that batter’s box and give you a good professional at-bat. It’s just good to have him back. I know the story of how he left the team is a story of its own, but at this point, I’m just happy to have him back.
Scott: Something we spoke about when I saw you at Media Day was your propensity to advance runners via the hit-and-run in situations where many coaches would bunt instead. I thought your explanation was fascinating. Do you mind giving me a short recap of it that I can share with my readers?
Paul: Well, you know, it’s funny because LSU fans are so passionate and sometimes they express to me their feelings. There are those who think I bunt way too much and those who think I don’t bunt enough. I’ve learned its hard to satisfy people because everyone has their opinions about things and that’s why I have to do what I know to be best, based on my experience. You know, I played at the University of New Orleans and my junior and senior years there my coach was Ron Maestri who really believed in the hit-and-run play. I saw how successful it could be and how much pressure it puts on the other team. So its something I’ve adopted in my coaching throughout my career long before I came to LSU. I’ve believed in the hit-and-run play because it puts a lot of pressure on the other team. However, it is not an easy play to execute. You have to have very unselfish players with skills and bat control to execute it. But like I tell our players, if you execute one good hit-and-run in a game to perfection it can mean a two-run rally which can be the ballgame in a tight game. If you execute a couple in a game, you can end up blowing out a team.
I think back to some of the plays that I put it on that have worked. The hit and run by Beau Jordan against Mississippi State after we had tied the game in the bottom of the 8th in Game 1 of the Super Regional in 2017. It moved Watson to third base where he eventually scored on Michael Papierski’s sacrifice fly. I remember calling a hit-and-run at Alabama in extra innings with Papierski up and he singled in the winning run in the 10th or 11th inning. I even remember back when we were playing Rice in the championship game of the regional in 2016, and we were losing 2-0 in the sixth or seventh inning. Poché came out of the bullpen and kept us in the game but we were stagnant offensively. We got a runner on base and I typically wouldn’t call a hit and run when we are losing but we needed a spark and Kreamer was up and I knew he could handle the bat. A pitch came up and in on him and he did a remarkable job and hit the ball right through the hole between first and second and the runner at first took third and Kramer took second on the throw. And then right after that, Deichmann hit a home run to win the game for us. The crowd got all fired up, and all of a sudden you could just feel the momentum swinging to our team and then Greg came through with that big home run and he added one later and we ended up winning 4-2.
When it works, it can be a huge spark plug for your team. But, of course, a lot of times people just want to dwell on the times that it doesn’t work. I’ve never denied it’s a high-risk play, but as a coach, you can’t be afraid… That’s just the way I’ve always been. I believe in attacking offense. And on defense, I just want to play fundamentally sound and make the other team earn everything it gets. And that’s kind of been a formula that’s worked through the years.
Scott: Of course, another way to advance runners is with speed on the base-paths. Last year, Antoine Duplantis had 19 steals while Zach Watson and Brandt Broussard had 14 apiece. Would you say these three are still the fastest on the team and are there any newcomers who give them a run for their money?
Paul: Well, I think Giovanni DiGiacomo, once he gets to play regularly and once he gets on base enough, is capable of stealing a lot of bases and I think Gavin Dugas is as well. But neither of those guys are going to be regular starters right out of the gate in their freshmen year, so we’ll have to wait a little while. But we’ll use them as pinch runners or in certain situations and I think their speed can be an asset as well.
LSU baseball gets underway on Friday, February 15 vs ULM.
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