When LSU announced the transfer of John Valek III, it was received with not a lot of fanfare. At Akron he was the go-to starter for the Zips, their team ace and a 1st Team All-MAC selection. But the move was seen as more of a life boat for a senior whose school cut baseball. Yes he was Akron's ace, but Akron is one of the teams that LSU beats up on in February and March. There's supposed to be a vast talent gulf between Akron and LSU. There's no way Valek would be a valuable contribution to this team, right?
Wrong. I'll admit it, at first I did not think much of the Valek transfer. Three games and 17.2 innings later, Valek has only issued one walk and posts a sub-Mendoza BAA of .172 and I have been proven wrong. He hasn't posted the most eye-popping stats but he has been more than effective and efficient on the mound. With an average of 13 runs supporting him, Valek has been cruising and impressing. In the first game of the Saturday doubleheader he went five strong, allowed one run on three hits and struck out three to one walk. Valek is not as much of an overpowering pitcher as Alex Lange is, but the senior has the wisdom of nearly 300 D1 innings on the mound and understands how to retire hitters effectively. We'll see if it continues when SEC play begins and the run support well begins to dry up, but a .172 BAA tends to show his pitching has relied less on luck and more on skill.
Another pleasant surprise has been Kramer Robertson. Robertson doesn't lead the team in any specific category, but he has completely turned the corner compared to his performance at the plate in the previous seasons. Defensively he's been solid and over the four game "trial run" with him at short I think he has proven he can man the position for the rest of the season. This past weekend alone he made a handful of stops that we thought would be hard to replicate once Bregman departed. In the first two games of the series this weekend, Robertson had only two hits, and through the sixth inning in game three he only had three. But it was the fourth hit that came in the seventh inning of the series finale that was the important one.
LSU entered the seventh inning stretch down 7-3 and by the time Kramer had stepped in the box, Beau Jordan had already been scored by a Greg Deichmann double and the bases were loaded with two outs. Down three with the number of outs to give dwindling, Robertson laced a double down the left field line that cleared the bases and tied the game. LSU would continue the rally and post seven runs in the inning to complete the sweep with a 10-7 final score.
In a vacuum, it was just one hit on an otherwise unspectacular weekend for Robertson, but it's the context that is important. Kramer Robertson has never been the player LSU fans want to see at the dish in a crucial moment and all of a sudden he has produced in a huge moment and is swinging the stick with confidence, even if the numbers are not that impressive. Over the past two seasons Kramer has lost his starting spot due to his liability at the plate and now he has grown into a plus player and, out of necessity from the mass defensive departure that occurred in the offseason, becoming a valued veteran leader in the process.
Now, let's address the elephant in the room. The reason Kramer had to step up was because for the second week in a row Alex Lange faltered, this week more than last. Through four innings, Lange had only given one run up and the LSU offense had provided him with three runs for support. That's not quite the same run support Valek had earlier in the day, but that should be plenty of cover for Alex to operate, right?
In the Fordham half of the 5th, Lange was tapped four times for three runs, giving the Rams the lead. Fordham chased Lange in the sixth after putting up two more runs to extend their lead to 7-3. At the end of the day, Lange got off the hook for his first collegiate loss but the past two weeks have been troubling. Some sputtering is to be expected from the pre-conference series, but we're rounding into the portion of the year where things should be getting ironed out, not wrinkled. If Alex Lange isn't Alex Lange by the time SEC play begins, things could get dicey, even given how solid Jared Poche' and John Valek III have been.
For the first two games of the series the LSU offense looked like it did last year, which caused much hand wringing in Baton Rouge pre-season. It took three innings for LSU to strike Friday night but when they did, they dropped the anvil on the Rams. Bryce Jordan and Michael Papierski went two for three on the night, with Papierski plating three runs and Jordan drawing two walks in addition to the same amount of hits. For the early game Saturday, LSU adopted the "early and often" tactic, plating five in the second and methodically widening the scoring gap from the 5th inning on. Jake Fraley, Bryce Jordan, and Cole Freeman all recorded multiple hits and combined for six RBIs between them.
LSU has two midweeks this week, against Louisiana Tech on Tuesday and McNeese on Wednesday, both at 6:30. This weekend is the last weekend for non-conference play, with Ball State coming to The Box to play games at 7:00, 2:00, and noon. Every game will be broadcast on SEC Network +, but be forewarned: as of composing, there is a 40% chance of rain Tuesday night and Wednesday night there's an 80% chance. The rain is supposed to persist all week, so the Ball State series could be affected as well.
GM1 Friday - LSU 12, Fordham 1; Win - Poche' (2-0). Loss - Weissert (0-1).
GM2 Saturday - LSU 15, Fordham 1; Win - Valek III (3-0). Loss - Serrapica (0-3).
GM3 Saturday - LSU 10, Fordham 7; Win - Gilbert (1-1). Loss - Manasek (0-1).