LAFAYETTE — Reagan Bazar can still reach back and blaze his fastball in there with the best of them.
The Louisiana-Lafayette baseball team’s 6-foot-7 power right-hander seized attention last season by hitting triple digits on the radar gun at Tigue Moore Field on the very first pitch of his career, and he consistently worked in the upper 90s throughout the year.
That tool will always be there in Bazar’s back pocket when he needs it, but what he’s hoping to find in his sophomore year is a more well-rounded version of the player who went 4-0 with a 2.27 ERA in 25 appearances as a freshman — no matter what his role may end up being.
“The main thing is to keep the hitters off-balance,” he said. “That’s what it comes down to.”
Working almost exclusively as a late-inning reliever last season, Bazar went through his entire freshman season with a two-pitch repertoire — a fastball and a slider. As intimidating as a 95-plus-mph fastball may be, Bazar said hitters began to wise up to his increasingly predictable pitches toward the end of the season.
“It’s difficult to get hitters out when they know what you’re going to throw,” Bazar said.
While playing for the Cotuit Kettleers in the Cape Cod league this summer, Bazar learned a few off-speed pitches that he hopes will make his live fastball even more dangerous, including a changeup.
“(The changeup) felt comfortable in my hand, and that’s what I’ve been working on,” Bazar said. “I also learned another curveball that I’m throwing now. I’m just trying to develop those as much as I can to effectively get hitters out.”
Bazar also hopes to refine his command, which may be the biggest challenge. He may have dazzled with his radar-gun showing a year ago, but he also had a team-worst 20-17 strikeout-to-walk ratio among players who pitched 20 or more innings.
“The big thing about Reagan is that he’s like a power hitter: They’re born with a curse,” coach Tony Robichaux said. “A guy that can throw in the high 90s like he can, the curse is usually command. The hitter that’s born with power, his curse is that he strikes out a lot. So the biggest challenge for us and Reagan is that he continues to develop, continues to grow.”
With a dearth of experienced pitchers on the roster, Bazar said he’s not sure whether he’ll occupy the same late-inning role this year. The Ragin’ Cajuns lost saves leader Ryan Wilson from last year’s team — as well as their entire weekend rotation.
Bazar started one game last season — an April 30 outing against Southeastern — and he threw 54 pitches before being pulled with one out in the third inning after allowing back-to-back hits.
He admitted he caught himself thinking about how he would have to change his style in a starter’s role before the game. In the late-inning role, Bazar can let his fastball fly unrestrained but, as he said, “Starting’s different.”
“You’ve got to make it last over seven (innings),” Bazar said.
But based on comments from Robichaux, it sounded unlikely that Bazar will find himself in the rotation to open the season. It all goes back to whether he can manage to harness his electric fastball.
“Down the road, his command will determine whether he can be a starter,” Robichaux said. “Right now, for us, he’s got to help us with a very inexperienced bullpen, then continue to develop and continue to work on his craft. The better he gets, the roles will expand.”
Robichaux is being careful with his naturally gifted young pitcher — and he made a point to remind everyone that while his 6-7, 240-pound frame may make him look like a grown man, Bazar still has plenty of room for growth.
“We have to be patient with him,” Robichaux said. “He is getting better. We don’t want to put him outside of what he’s capable of doing too early.”