When JJ Wetherholt missed time earlier this season due to a hand injury, it was clear that shortstop Tevin Tucker was the best player to fill the leadoff spot in the lineup.
Tucker was hitting .333, a stark contrast to his previous seasons at WVU in which he never eclipsed the .200 mark. Knowing Tucker’s on-base ability was also advantageous for the role, head coach Randy Mazey made the move.
The offense saw the benefits of the lineup tweak even after Wetherholt returned a few games later. In Tucker’s first 11 games as the leadoff man, WVU went 10-1. The lineup was there to stay.
Fast-forward to June and head coach Randy Mazey believed the Mountaineer lineup needed another refresher with elimination on the line in the NCAA Tournament.
“I was [very] close to leading [with Wetherholt] and putting the other eight names in a hat and just letting them draw it out of there,” Mazey said. “Because it really doesn’t matter…We just have a bunch of guys that are role players and just try to grind out at-bats.”
Call it intuition or pure baseball intelligence, but Mazey’s new-look lineup delivered its best offensive performance in almost a month Saturday with a 13-5 win against Ball State.
To start, Wetherholt made the slide back into the leadoff spot for the Mountaineers for the first time since the injury. Within his first two at-bats back at the top, he had already singled and homered. He finished the day with a 3-for-5 performance and four RBIs.
“We just want to get our best hitters to the plate as much as we can,” Mazey said. “Over the course of the season, the guys who hit first or second in the lineup are going to get 15-to-20 more at-bats than the guys that hit at the bottom just because the game has to end at some point, and somebody gets left in the on-deck circle.”
Tucker was bumped all the way down to the ninth slot. Before Saturday, he had spent the last 23 games as the first hitter in the lineup. While still impressive, his average had dipped from .333 to .312 in the process.
With the nine-hole often considered as a “second leadoff man,” Tucker’s placement is not atypical for a speedy contact hitter of his nature. He reaped the benefits of the change of scenery Saturday, going 2-for-3 with a double and two walks. He reached base safely in all five of his at-bats.
Perhaps the biggest wrench in the lineup was freshman designated hitter Logan Sauve hitting second. Sauve, who hit ninth Friday, never batted higher than fifth in the WVU lineup all year before the Ball State game.
“[Sauve] really is a prototypical two-hole guy,” Mazey said. “He is swinging a pretty hot bat.”
Mazey also moved catcher Dayne Leonard up to the seventh spot from the eight-hole after his three-hit performance Friday. Leonard joined Sauve and Wetherholt in the home run column Saturday.
“[Leonard] was in [the middle of the lineup] when the season started,” Mazey said. “[When] you put him down at eighth, it takes some pressure off him…You don’t put guys in spots of the lineup for the same reasons all the time, you just move them around to take pressure off them.”
It’s part of Mazey’s job to write the lineup card. It may even be the hardest part of the gig. But the players do not put too much mental energy into the batting order, at least so they say.
“At the end of the day it’s just a game,” Sauve added. “Wherever coach puts me in the lineup, I just try to do my job.”