BATON ROUGE, La. — Maybe teams should stop throwing strikes to Zach Watson.
Watson continued his torrid hot streak on Wednesday night against Tulane, batting 3 for 3 with 2 doubles, 3 runs, 3 RBI and 2 stolen bases in LSU baseball’s 10-4 victory over the Green Wave. With the win, LSU improved to 15-8 on the season and snapped a four-game losing streak against Tulane, dating back to 2016.
Since the start of SEC play last Friday, Watson has been absurdly productive. Over those four games, Watson is hitting 11 for 17 (.647) with 5 extra-base hits, 8 RBI and 7 runs scored. Since his return from injury on March 6, Watson has hit 20 for 46 (.435) and has hit safely in nine out of 10 games, including the last eight consecutively.
“Really I’m just trying to slow down the game,” Watson said. “I’ve gotten used to people trying to throw curveballs to me and I’ve adjusted my approach a little bit. When I did that, I started hitting the ball good. Really, I’m just calming myself down knowing the curveball is going to come.”
Watson doubled in the fourth and fifth innings Wednesday night, driving in three runs and helping to swing a four-run Tulane lead to a four-run LSU lead. The sophomore outfielder was also hit in the helmet by a pitch in the seventh inning, after which he stayed in the game and promptly stole a base.
“My heart stopped when he got hit in the head by that pitch,” LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri said. “In this day in age with all the concussion attention and so forth you’re worried any time that happens. But he didn’t show any symptoms at all and I think he’s fine. Fortunately, it was curveball and not a 92 mph fastball.”
Though it was a brief appearance, LSU baseball freshman right-hander Nick Storz made his debut Wednesday night, starting and pitching a scoreless first inning. The Brooklyn, N.Y., native faced five batters, hitting the first two he faced with pitches before stranding them both in scoring position.
“Going into it, I knew I had to maximize whatever I was going to do,” Storz said. “I didn’t want to go out there and mess up anything. Knowing I had one inning, I knew I had to focus in and make sure no run was going to score within that one inning.”
Storz threw 17 pitches, 9 for strikes, before giving way to fellow freshman AJ Labas. Labas allowed 4 runs on 6 hits (3 doubles) in 4 innings, striking out 2 batters and walking 1. By giving up a run in the third inning, Labas ended his season-long scoreless inning streak at 13 frames.
One fine freshman
Watson wasn’t the only Tigers player with a big day Wednesday. Freshman left fielder Daniel Cabrera joined the club as well, going 4 for 5 with two doubles, an RBI and 3 runs scored. His RBI single in the fifth inning gave LSU baseball its first lead of the game a 5-4.
Cabrera has had an up-and-down season at the plate, but he’s been consistently good at snagging extra bases. Of his 18 hits, 10 of which have gone for multiple bases, including a team-high 9 doubles.
“I was just looking for pitches to drive and when I got it I didn’t miss it,” Cabrera said. “Whenever I had the big leg kick, I wasn’t on time a lot. I had to just stick the bat out sometimes. Now, I’m on time without that leg kick and I’m just seeing the ball a lot better.”
Between the sixth and eighth innings, LSU baseball called upon its three most reliable middle-inning relief pitchers: Devin Fontenot, Matthew Beck and Nick Bush. The trio retired nine Tulane batters in nine at-bats, striking out 7.
Fontenot and Beck struck out the side in the sixth and seventh inning, while Bush induced two fly outs and a strikeout. The three relievers have combined to post a 3.54 ERA with 55 strikeouts in 40 2/3 innings pitched in 2018.
“They were terrific,” Mainieri said. “I thought Fontenot and Beck and Bush and Todd Peterson were outstanding. That was very good for us as we’re getting ready to go into a weekend series because we’re obviously going to need to count on our bullpen.”
What’s next for LSU baseball?
LSU baseball returns to SEC action this weekend with a trip to Nashville to face the Vanderbilt Commodores. All three games will be televised nationally, with the Friday and Saturday games airing on ESPNU in primetime and the Sunday game playing at noon on ESPN2. They’ll also be available to stream through WatchESPN.