LSU’s Andrew Stevenson becomes offensive threat

During the summer, Sean McMullen searched hitting statistics for each of his LSU teammates playing summer ball.

There was one, big surprise: Andrew Stevenson was batting above .200.

Heck, he was batting above .300.

It couldn’t be.

Was this the same Andrew Stevenson who batted .193 last season? Was this the guy who struck out 25 times in 33 starts, the one known more for web gems than line drives?

Yes, it was.

“I noticed that he changed something in his game,” said McMullen, the Tigers leadoff man, “because he really nailed the ball in the summer.”

He’s still nailing it, too.

LSU (7-1), ranked No. 1 in at least one poll and in the top 10 in the rest, hosts Yale for a three-game, weekend series with an unlikely person leading its offensive production.

Stevenson, a sophomore from Youngsville, has a better average (.381) than all but one everyday starter and his slugging percentage (.571) is tops among that group.

He has two triples. The rest of the team has zero.

And he has five RBIs in 21 at-bats, all but one of them coming while batting in the lower half of the lineup.

It’s quite the transformation for a guy who had just one extra-base hit in 119 at-bats in 2013.

“I feel more comfortable at the plate,” said Stevenson, a shy, short-talking 188-pounder. “Had a pretty good summer, just trying to carry over to the season.”

There’s more to it than that.

Stevenson went through a swing overhaul while playing in the Northwoods Summer League, transforming a chopping-like stab at the ball into a flat, level attempt.

The transformation began late last season and hit full stride in summer ball.

He batted .363 with nine doubles, three triples and a pair of homers in the summer league.

Coaches describe his swing from last season as a motion that formed more of a ‘V’ than anything else.

The swing was in and out of the hitting zone too quick. For bat to meet ball, the timing had to be perfect.

Too many times, it wasn’t.

It led to some ugly numbers.

He slugged .218, had an on-base percentage of .289 and finished with just 23 hits.

Stevenson went stretches without ever reaching base, his defensive prowess the only thing keeping him in the LSU lineup.

He was so good defensively – already he’s stolen a couple of hits this season with diving plays – that coach Paul Mainieri says he never wavered on starting Stevenson every day.

That .193 average was bad, yes, but his fielding was just that good, the coach said.

Stevenson admits his focus last season was on the glove.

“I knew at the plate I wasn’t going to make the biggest contributions because I wasn’t hitting too good,” he said. “I know I had the potential too. At the time, I was worried about making plays in the outfield.”

The focus this summer: on that swing.

In order to flatten the swing motion, Stevenson lowered his hands, brought them closer to the hitting zone and adjusted, even, his stance.

“His timing’s way better,” hitting coach Javi Sanchez. “Last year he was more of a step swinger and now he’s stepping up and using his backside tremendously.”

Stevenson resisted the change at first.

The new swing wasn’t producing quick enough results.

He’d revert back to the old, chopping motion during games, a swing that carried him through high school.

A few games into last season, he knew he needed to make a change. The numbers were just too grim.

“When you look up every day and you see .100 on the scoreboard,” he said, “it’s something you change quickly.”

That .100? It’s long gone now.

McMullen doesn’t need to scour summer ball numbers anymore.

It’s the spring.

“(He’s) going to be a force in our lineup,” McMullen said, “for sure.”