Three Up, Three Down

Raph Rhymes busted his slump with five RBI on Sun.

TSD examines three positives and three negatives for the LSU baseball team after the previous week. Injuries in the bullpen have plagued the team this season, but one player's return could have things looking up. A big day at the plate Sunday has hidden some problems, but there's still work that needs to be done for LSU offensively.

Three Up

Mason Katz and Raph Rhymes bust the slump

Entering Sunday's game against Southeastern Louisiana, Katz and Rhymes had been two of LSU's more unproductive hitters. Rhymes had only one RBI — which he got in his walkoff hit Thursday against BYU — and Katz held a .217 batting average before the game. Paul Mainieri would later say it himself that LSU's struggles at the plate started with those two.

Well Katz and Rhymes erupted in a big way Sunday, accounting for 11 of LSU's 13 RBI against the Lions. The duo finally took advantage of run-scoring opportunities and gave the offensive performance fans had expected from them. It's no coincidence that LSU's must successful offensive outing of the season came when these two finally turned it on.

Where the offense goes from here still lies squarely on Katz and Rhymes, and Sunday's outing proved that they're still capable of carrying the load. With the emergence of Chris Sciambra, Mark Laird and Alex Bregman at the top of the order, Katz and Rhymes will have plenty of opportunities to drive in runs, and if they do, look for more games like Sunday's in the future.

Coming through in the clutch

After LSU struggled during the opening series, hitting into five double plays, the Tigers did a great job of hitting in the clutch this past weekend. You can look at two examples of when LSU came through at a time it was desperately needed. Christian Ibarra's game-tying home run against BYU on Thursday was about as clutch as possible, getting LSU — and the few fans still in attendance — back into the game. Ibarra turned the momentum, and the rest of the lineup followed suit. The next four batters all reached base, including Rhymes, who drove in the game-winning run on a deep hit to left field.

Though the stakes were a bit less severe Sunday afternoon, Katz's homerun in the first inning against SLU had the same effect as Ibarra's. Coming off its first loss of the season, LSU desperately needed to come out hot against the Lions. And Katz did, drilling the second pitch of the resumed game into the LF bleachers and giving LSU an early 3-0 lead. With runs coming at a premium these days, LSU will need to take advantage of every opportunity it gets, and these two homers were proof the Tigers can.

The return of Nick Rumbelow

I wrote last week that the LSU bullpen could really afford to have some of its injured arms back in action. That will be the case as Nick Rumbelow will return from an oblique injury and pitch tomorrow against ULL. Rumbelow will be the first pitcher to appear out of the bullpen and fans will get their first glimpse of him this season. Rumbelow had a decent 2012 campaign, finishing with a 3.65 ERA in 29 relief appearances. He was in line to compete for the closing role before that injury sidelined him a week before the opening series, but he now appears set to return to the bullpen.

Rumbelow's absence forced LSU to rely more heavily on some of the younger arms in relief, which served LSU with mixed results. Look to Saturday's loss to BYU, in which three of the five relievers surrendered runs. Rumbelow's return will help that issue as he'll bring an experienced arm to the back end of the bullpen.

Three Down

Kurt McCune still sidelined

The optimism behind Rumebelow's return can't be felt for McCune. Last week, Mainieri said it would be at least a month until McCune can return to action after suffering a broken vertebra in his back. He said McCune's in excruciating pain, which will sideline him for quite some time. That's a tough blow for McCune, who was poised to have a rebound season after falling out of the rotation in 2012.

Much like with Rumbelow's absence, LSU has suffered with the lack of experience in the bullpen, something McCune would provide. While the other young arms have shown promise, their inconsistency has been a cause for concern to this point. LSU would love to have McCune back sooner, rather than later, to shore up those issues in the pen.

Caught in a pickle

If there's something negative to be found from LSU's 13-1 victory on Sunday, it's that the Tigers ran into some trouble on the bases. Katz was caught stealing early in the game on a pitch he was probably expecting JaCoby Jones to hit. Jones held his swing, and Katz was caught easily, ending the inning. Later, both he and Ibarra were caught trying to score from third on balls hit hard and directly to infielders. Both players were caught in rundowns and eventually tagged.

You can respect the team's aggression on the basepaths, but it turns into an issue when that aggression leads to outs. Especially with the inconsistent run production to this point in the season, LSU can't afford to waste opportunities with runners 90 feet from home. It didn't cost them against Southeastern, but those runs will become all the more valuable once SEC play arrives.

Two outs, too often, mean three

The offensive outpouring on Sunday has taken most people's minds off the lethargic performance in Saturday's loss. But because the issues LSU had that night have become trends in this young season already, it's worth noting as a negative part of the year. The Tigers' plate approach with two outs has been everything short of remarkable.

In that loss, LSU went just 2-for-10 with two outs, stranding several runners in scoring position. Instead of shortening up their swings, the players attempted to tie the game with one swing of the bat, resulting in easy outs for BYU. Katz admitted as much after the game, faulting his own at bats as a big reason the team lost that night.

LSU did respond the following day, going 11-for-17 with two outs against Southeastern. If LSU can continue that kind of clutch production, this issue will fall by the wayside. But until the offense shows that kind of consistency, it's something to continue watching as we move forward into this season.

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