Kentucky's baseball team will battle more than in-state rival Louisville Tuesday evening at Cliff Hagan Stadium. UK must also contend with what Coach Gary Henderson calls an "offensive funk."
While losing five of six games in its last two Southeastern Conference series, Kentucky batted only .209 in that span. UK failed to score for the first time all season in Sunday's 5-0 loss to Tennessee, which ranks last in the league in runs allowed (9.42 per game) and earned run average (7.98).
Henderson lamented "indecision" at the plate.
"I think you can feel it," he told reporters Monday. "I think the fans feel it. ... The indecision leads to chase, expanding the strike zone."
Conversely, there's also been a noticeable increase in called third strikes.
"Because you're over-thinking," Henderson said. " ... The lack of a plan. The lack of clarity. Those are the things that show a little bit of the stress and pressure and distraction."
Henderson shuffled UK's batting order last week to try to spark more offense. He moved freshman Kyle Barrett to lead-off and dropped star sophomore Austin Cousino into the third spot. Cousino, a co-leader in hitting for UK last season with a .319 average, has had two hits in 14 at-bats as the No. 3 hitter.
"He's not firing on all cylinders, but he will," Henderson said. "He's a really, really talented kid." Henderson likened Cousino to Albert Pujols, whose slow start to the 2012 season caused much consternation. Pujols finished with 30 home runs and 105 runs batted in.
"He's not at his best," Henderson said of Cousino, "but we'll get Austin back to where he needs to be."
The lack of offensive punch (.194 batting average at LSU April 5-7 and .224 against Tennessee last weekend) also adversely affects Kentucky's pitching, Henderson noted. Not counting the wash-out series at LSU, Kentucky hadn't given up 10 runs a game since Feb. 18. Then Tennessee beat UK 10-9 on Saturday.
"When you're in an offensive funk as we're in right now — clearly — it's real easy for that guy on the mound to try to do more than he really needs to or can," the UK coach said.
Henderson called for UK pitchers and hitters to not try to do too much. Or as he put it, "Try for a five-run homer with no one on."
In a long baseball season, all teams go through fallow periods. "It's our turn," Henderson said.
Of the competitive challenge of playing a SEC schedule, the UK coach noted that six teams have 8-7 or 7-8 league records.
"Well, there you go," he said. "And the kids are going to hear, 'How tough are you?' ... And we'll find out."
Louisville at Kentucky
When: 6:30 p.m.
TV/radio: FS South, CWKYT-27.2WLAP-AM 630
Jerry Tipton: (859) 231-3227. Twitter: @JerryTipton. Blog: ukbasketball.bloginky.com