Rhymes' bat not cooling at season's end

May, 9, 2012
5/09/12
10:47
AM ET
BATON ROUGE -- In the world of college baseball, gaudy statistics are common.

Paul Mainieri
Marvin Gentry/US PresswireLSU head coach Paul Mainieri has seen a lot through the years, but never a .500 hitter in a regular season.
With so much talent spread across such a wide talent pool, it's not unusual to see jaw-dropping stats. For instance, there are 15 batters in the country hitting above .400 and 50 hitting .379 or better. A whopping 41 college pitchers have an ERA of 1.99 or lower, and the nation's best ERA is an astounding 0.63.

None of that knowledge, however, can diminish the absurd tear that LSU left fielder Raph Rhymes finds himself on going into the last week of the season.

With seven regular season games to play, Rhymes is leading not just the Tigers, but the SEC and the entire country with an unbelievable .500 batting average -- 54 points higher than his nearest competitor.

"Somebody asked me the other day, 'What does he have to do to hit .500?' and I said , 'How should I know? I've never seen anybody hit .500' " said LSU coach Paul Mainieri. "If I were to tell you what it takes to hit .500, I'd be fooling you. Because I don't know -- I've never seen anybody do it."

Mainieri's amazement gives credence to what Rhymes has been doing this spring. If the head man, who has coached 29 seasons and won a national championship, hasn't seen it, then it probably doesn't happen very often.

"I don't like to think about it," Rhymes said. "When people start worrying about their batting average, it gets them off track of the main goal -- and the main goal here is to win."

Of course, it's probably easier to get over stat totals when you've taken the path Rhymes has. If there's one thing crazier than Rhymes' strike out total (which is just 10 in 170 at-bats), it's his trip to the heart of the LSU order. Before he could suit up for the Tigers, much less lead them in hitting, Rhymes failed to make the team as a walk-on out of Monroe, La. The Neville High School standout could not find a roster spot, and instead transferred to LSU-Eunice Junior College, where he hit .486.

"I honestly thought maybe that was the best thing for the kid. He's going to get an opportunity to play," Mainieri said. "Well, then he goes off and has this tremendous season, gains this unbelievable level of confidence and has this tremendous experience. I think maybe he wouldn't have been the same player at LSU-Baton Rouge if he hadn't had that experience."

Said Rhymes: "I just wanted somewhere to play when I first made the decision to go to junior college. I didn't have anywhere to go, and if I do want to want to go back and play Division I baseball and make it back to LSU, this is the route I'm going to have to go."

Rhymes isn't the power hitter typically seen at the top of the stat rankings, either. The nation's current No. 2 hitter, Hofstra's Danny Poma, has knocked 36 extra base hits this year. Mikie Mahtook, LSU's batting champ in 2011, powered his way to 31 extra baggers, including 14 home runs.

With just 14 extra base hits of his own, Rhymes has morphed into a different sort of hitting machine, opting instead to spray base hits to every inch of the park.

"I've accepted that I'm not a guy that's going to go up there and hit it 500 feet. That's not something that's part of my game," Rhymes said. "I may hit some home runs, but I don't go up there to hit home runs. I'm looking to get on base and put good at-bats together for the guys behind me."

That talent -- the ability to lace the ball to any part of the field -- is something Mainieri said should come in handy in Rhymes' future, whenever he decides to pursue it. The adjustment to the less powerful pro game is something he said bigger hitters can have trouble with.

"It's a very difficult thing to be able to hit the ball to all fields, and he has mastered that," Mainieri said. "It's why he rarely strikes out, and you can't defend him in one way -- you can't put a certain shift on him ... Those are very unique skills, to be able to do that. And a professional ought to be grateful to have a hitter that can do those kind of things."

David Helman | email

Reporter, RecruitingNation

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