BATON ROUGE, La. — The LSU baseball team just completed a three-game sweep of Georgia. But the Tigers are probably glad they don’t have to play the Bulldogs anymore.
Georgia gave LSU everything it could take — and a handful of bruises to boot — but the Tigers still snuck away with a victory, completing the SEC weekend sweep with a 7-6 win. Freshman right-hander Eric Walker made the start and worked his way through 6 innings for LSU, allowing 3 runs on 5 hits with 8 strikeouts and no walks.
“I told our new players after the game, welcome to the SEC,” LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri said. “You earn everything you get. The whole idea is to get the last out before the other team ties the game or gets the lead. It was a grind today. I’m just kind of glad we got out alive.”
The most recurring theme of the afternoon, and the weekend as a whole, was the erratic nature of Georgia’s pitchers and the opportunities that created for LSU. LSU batters walked 5 times and were hit by 5 pitches Sunday. In the fifth inning alone, Georgia walked 4 LSU hitters, 3 in a row, and hit another, leading to 3 LSU runs on just 1 hit.
In the bottom of the sixth inning, Georgia pitcher Tucker Bradley hit Kramer Robertson, Cole Freeman and Antoine Duplantis in back-to-back-to-back at-bats to load the bases. LSU came away with one run from the exchange off a Greg Deichmann sacrifice fly. In all, LSU batters were hit by 12 pitches this weekend and walked 21 times.
“I’m happy, honestly,” Robertson said of the series of HBPs. “It was a close game at that point. It hurts, but it’s just as good as a walk or a hit or anything. So we have bases loaded, no outs with Greg up, so I was happy and encouraged with it. Greg did his job. We did what we needed to do. It wasn’t pretty, but we did what we needed to do to win the game.”
Walker (3-0, 2.67 ERA) stuck to the script he’s used all season.
The poised freshman threw a ton of strikes, 61 on 108 pitches, and did his best to minimize contact. Of Walker’s 8 strikeouts, though, only 3 came with runners on base.
As has been his strategy all year, Walker instead relied on fly balls and pop-ups to get his outs. Walker only recorded 2 outs via ground balls, compared to 7 via flyouts. But this continued gambling on hittable pitches yet again revealed his biggest shortcoming: home runs.
Eric Walker has given up four home runs in five starts. Today he's gotten six flyouts and one groundout. Last week? 12 FOs, 3 GOs.
— Nick Suss (@nicksuss) March 19, 2017
Walker allowed his 4th home run in 5 starts Sunday, a 2-run job from Georgia second baseman Will Proctor. As a young pitcher who pounds the zone, Walker is going to give up home runs. But the fact that he allows an unexpectedly high amount of fly balls and line drives will only bite him more and more as the quality of competition increases.
“As far as plans, it’s just get them out,” Walker said. “Whether it’s a fly ball or a groundout, that’s just how baseball goes. I think every start may be different. It’s just trying to get them out.”
Robertson had another strong day from the leadoff spot, going 2-for-3 with 4 runs scored and reaching base in all 5 of his at-bats.
The performance closed out a weekend for the senior shortstop that included a 5-for-5, 3-double day Friday night and a Saturday showing where he reached base an additional 2 times. Robertson leads the Tigers with 32 runs scored this season. No other LSU player has more than 21.
Matthew has your Beck
Mainieri replaced Walker in the seventh inning with midweek starter Zack Hess, who allowed a single and a walk to the two base runners he faced. Mainieri yanked Hess in favor of fellow freshman Matthew Beck, who didn’t start off great but eventually settled into a fine rhythm.
Beck threw 2 no-hit innings, allowing 1 walk and hitting 1 batter, to bridge LSU from the seventh inning to the ninth and new closer Caleb Gilbert. Gilbert allowed two runs in the ninth inning but ultimately came through for a save, albeit a messy one.
“The one thing about Matthew Beck is he’s always going to show great poise,” Mainieri said. “He’s going to throw the ball over the plate and he’s somewhat fearless out there. It’s a good combination. If he threw eight miles per hour harder, he probably wouldn’t be at LSU. He’d be counting his money from the signing bonus. I had a gut feeling about that kid all along and he really asserted himself as somebody we can count on.”
Though Beck did allow one of the runners he inherited from Hess to score, he preserved his perfect 0.00 ERA in 6.2 innings of work. He’s allowed 1 hit in that time.
What’s next for LSU baseball?
LSU has one midweek game this week versus Southeastern Louisiana on Wednesday night at 6:30 p.m. CT at Alex Box Stadium. After that, the Tigers head to Gainesville for a pivotal weekend series against the Florida Gators, who might be reeling after losing its SEC opening series versus Auburn this weekend. Florida is 3-6 in its last nine games.
Mainieri said he’s unsure of who will start Wednesday’s game given that Hess threw today. If LSU were to use a bullpen starter other than Hess, Todd Peterson would be the most likely candidate given his start last Wednesday versus UNO.