The baseball segment of the Southeastern Conference never lets up. And Alabama knows it all too well.
The Crimson Tide started the SEC schedule with a 7-2 record….then came the buzzsaw. Meetings with No. 9 Arkansas and No. 18 Ole Miss have pushed the conference record down to 8-7 before a three-game series with the No. 2 LSU Tigers this weekend.
“They’re really good in all phases of the game,” Alabama head coach Mitch Gaspard said. “Offensively, for most of the year, their top six hitters have been really locked in and now they’ve got some guys that are swinging the bat well in the bottom half right now.
“It’s a well-built team in all areas.”
Gaspard did find one bat to isolate in the LSU lineup, however, which features five everyday players batting over .300, two over .400.
“The key guy for them right now is (Alex) Bregman, he’s having a phenomenal year as a freshman,” Gaspard said of the shortstop currently batting .424 with a team-high 10 doubles. “We’ve had an opportunity to see him, he’s a really good player.”
“It’s a real challenge for a pitching staff. You have to make quality pitches. You can’t give them anything easy, you have to play the field really well.”
The Alabama offense is making adjustments to try to meet that standard, making a change in lead-off hitter from freshman center fielder Georgie Salem to senior third baseman Kenny Roberts.
“Even with the offensive struggles last weekend, I think we put ourselves in a position to score some runs,” Gaspard said. “I think Kenny helped us out with that, hellping create offense early in the game and I think Georgie is more comfortable in that 2 spot.”
It did force the senior into an awkward situation when Gaspard approached him about moving up in the order.
“My heart dropped a little bit, because I’ve never done it,” Roberts said. “It kind of got me out of my comfort zone.
“I’ve never hit lead-off, and I’m still learning. I’m talking to guys who have hit lead-off before.”
But Roberts’ performance in the leadoff role has been established, qualitatively.
“He’s giving us quality at-bats,” Gaspard said. “He’s had some long at-bats, he does a great job of hitting with two strikes and he may be hitting the ooudest .265 in the league, he’s had a lot of hard contact he hasn’t been rewarded for.”
Roberts joked, “That sounds about right, I can agree with that. It’s frustrating, but I can’t let it affect how I play.”
The recent conference losses could have an effect, however, on the team’s mindset approaching a key home series.
“It’s imperative that we come out and fight and compete,” Roberts said. “I think there were times last weekend where we didn’t compete, so I think it’s important we come out and compete and play hard.”
Gaspard added, “We need to play with energy and get a few good things to happen to us so we can get some momentum on our side and try to ride that as long as we can.”
While wins and losses will eventually be the judge of the team, Gaspard does not want his team looking beyond game one of the series.
“Our team has done a good job of this, you have to play one game at a time, one pitch at a time,” Gaspard said. “I think that’s the only way you have success.”