Inconsistent bats doom Bama again
NEW ORLEANS — Following his two-homer performance Friday night, Alabama's Evan Bush sat at the postgame press conference and told reporters he felt like 210 pounds worth of weight had been lifted from him.
Since the roster lists him at 207, it's safe to say he was referring to his own demons. Those demons had likely been in full effect in recent weeks, as Bush, the Crimson Tide's cleanup hitter, had three hits in his previous 34 at bats.
(And, in an oddity that's a product of his homers and doubles, he had not singled since May 1.)
So Tide coach Jim Wells, in the midst of a wholesale flip-flop of his lineup, moved Bush down to the five spot for Alabama's NCAA regional opener against Louisiana-Lafayette. He responded with a home run to dead center in the first inning and another homer in the seventh in a 7-5 Crimson Tide victory.
Wells moved Zac Welch, his first baseman, from the No. 5 spot into the cleanup role. He went 2-for-4, including a home run of his own in the fifth.
Nice moves, coach.
Of course, it begs a question, like why Wells waited until now, weeks after his team played its way out of hosting a regional, to make the lineup switch. The Crimson Tide appeared to be cruising to hosting the Tuscaloosa Regional until its bats went silent around the end of April.
Wells said after Friday's game that the scouting report on Louisiana-Lafayette starter Kevin Ardoin was a slider-pitcher, and Wells crafted his lineup to make the most of it. He reverted to an older version of his lineup card for Saturday's matchup with Tulane, with only three of the nine slots remaining the same.
And, you guessed it, Bush and Welch swapped places again.
Wells' decisions Friday night proved moot, since Ardoin left the game injury-free after pitching a third of an inning. In the department of absurd NCAA baseball regional stats, it might take second place to Quinnipiac's 35-8 loss to Miami of Ohio on Saturday afternoon. But Ardoin didn't have anywhere near his best stuff, and the Ragin' Cajuns couldn't afford to fall further behind.
So those Friday lineup switches gave Alabama a spark for its offense. But we saw this before, like in the final 11 innings of the Auburn series. Then came the SEC tournament, and the freeze was back on.
In the loss to Tulane on Saturday night, the Tide looked to be back in the cryogenics chamber until the fifth inning, when it managed three runs.
Alabama probably pushed too hard with an opportunity in the first; Cale Iorg was caught stealing with Bush, he of 53 RBIs, at the plate.
It wasn't until the fifth when Alabama put some runs on the board. The Crimson Tide had two legit singles, then got an infield hit from Emeel Salem and Bush got an RBI when he drew a walk with the bases loaded.
Iorg showed some power with a solo shot off the left field light pole in the seventh. It showed, at least, that the Crimson Tide wasn't the offensive ballclub that it was a week ago. And that's a good thing for Alabama.
Maybe Tulane's Brian Bogusevic, the Conference USA player of the year and certainly one of the nation's top pitchers, wasn't a fair test of Alabama's offensive mettle. This time of the year, that doesn't matter.
So which Alabama team shows up in the batter's box today?
Here's a thought: For the Crimson Tide's sake, it better be the one that can slap the ball around the park.
If Alabama's first two games in the New Orleans Regional are any indication, the Tide might expect a little bit of good and bad.
One thing's for certain: After today, there's no time for repairs.