BATON ROUGE, La. — LSU freshman center fielder Zach Watson is not going to have a crisis of confidence any time soon.
Watson is the hottest bat in the Tigers lineup. Heading into a crucial series at Kentucky, he’s reached base in 24 consecutive games and has hits in the last 12 games. Notably, he’s very aware of those numbers and embraces the challenge of making them rise.
“I think about it every at-bat, every game,” Watson admitted. “I go into the game knowing what streak I’m on. ‘I’ve got to get a hit this game, I’ve got to get on somehow.’ It’s a big thing to me. To do this as a freshman is a big thing. I want to see how long I can keep it going.”
That might sound me-first, but it really isn’t. Watson knows a hitting streak doesn’t mean anything if those knocks come in situations that do nothing to benefit the Tigers.
“I don’t want one hit, but multiple hits a game,” he said. “I want to do my best for the team.”
Plus, he looks at it as a bit of a reverse superstition. Streaks and no-hitters are the types of things that ballplayers don’t mention in the dugout, but Watson doesn’t subscribe to that behavior.
“I’ve got to mention it every time,” Watson said. “If I don’t mention it, I’ll end it.”
His ascent is notable for an LSU offense that went through the doldrums for its first few SEC series. Watson started the year on the bench. Coach Paul Mainieri then plugged him in to bolster LSU’s defense in center even though he was a shortstop in high school.
“It took some getting used to, but after practicing every day I’m very used to it,” Watson said. “I feel like I’ve played it forever.”
Watson spent the bulk of his early games as LSU’s No. 9 hitter. He thinks it was a crucial move by Mainieri that helped bolster a confidence that now seems unflappable.
“It allowed me to be at the bottom of the lineup, and yet I’m the second leadoff,” Watson said. “You need a good guy down there that’s going to hit the ball that’s got some wheels. I saw it as an opportunity to be the second leadoff and get on base one way or the other.”
The experiment worked so well that Mainieri can no longer chance waiting for the first inning to end before Watson steps into the batter’s box. The West Ouachita (La.) High grad has batted in the No. 3 hole in front of slugger Greg Deichmann in LSU’s past two games.
“When I looked at the lineup and saw myself in the 3-hole I said ‘Oh, I like this. I can get on and Greg can drive me in,’” Watson said. “It’s a win-win situation.”
Watson doesn’t appear to be much of a power threat, putting only 166 pounds on his 6-foot frame. But he’s second behind Deichmann on the team with a .475 slugging percentage.
“He doesn’t come across as being a really athletic guy because he’s just not a really big guy,” Mainieri said. “But he’s really wiry strong, and he can run. And he’s got a little bit of that ‘it’ factor too.”
Whether it’s the “it” factor or simply skill, Watson wants to make sure he can keep contributing to the offense and stay in the heart of the order.
“I don’t want to give Coach Mainieri a reason to take me out of the 3-hole,” Watson said. “It might have been a (short-term) thing, I don’t know. He knows what he’s doing. I trust him.”
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