It sounds simple, but Louisiana-Lafayette baseball coach Tony Robichaux says it’s a hard lesson for young pitchers to learn until they go through the experience.
For many of the young arms on his Ragin’ Cajuns staff, it’s learning that pitches that retired high school hitters only nine months earlier don’t necessarily work against collegiate hitters.
“You throw ball one, ball two, and then your 2-and-0 fastball goes off the wall,” Robichaux said. “It’s a tough teach. You’ve just got to get them out there and get through it.”
UL-Lafayette had many of those teaching moments during its opening weekend, when Texas-San Antonio took two of three games in San Antonio. The Cajuns outhit UTSA in all three games and had 11 or more hits in each, but the pitching staff was inconsistent in allowing key hits and struggled with control to the tune of 13 walks — eight in Sunday’s 11-5 finale loss.
“When you do that, it compresses the plate,” Robichaux said. “Now hitters can center up on you if you can’t show location, and now you’re asking for trouble. They don’t have to worry about the change or the breaker. We shrunk the plate a lot, and we can’t do that.”
The Cajuns fell 8-5 in the Friday opener before winning 8-2 Saturday behind a strong pitching start by freshman Evan Guillory. Sunday’s loss, which came after holding three early one-run leads, gave UL-Lafayette its first regular-season series loss since 2013, after not losing two of three at any point in last year’s 58-10 campaign.
But nobody in the Cajuns camp is panicking.
“They’ll settle in,” junior third baseman Joe Robbins said of the youthful staff. “Give them a few weeks. It’s not going to take long. A few outings, and they’ll be just fine.”
“I’ve coached pitchers long enough to not get frustrated,” Robichaux said. “The more they go out there, the better they’ll get.”
Robbins was one of the bright points offensively, after the junior missed virtually all of 2014 with Tommy John shoulder surgery. The Pineville product had three hits in Saturday’s middle game, including a clutch, two-out, fourth-inning single that scored two runs and his first career home run two innings later.
In all, UL-Lafayette had three homers over the weekend, from Robbins, Derek Herrington and Stefan Trosclair, and each was a collegiate first. The Cajuns also had nine extra-base hits in the final two games, and were also successful in using different lineup and defensive combinations in all three games.
“That was one thing we wanted to do,” Robichaux said. “We wanted to play a lot of guys and throw a lot of guys, let them get some dirt in their cleats on the road so they’ll be more ready when they get back home and in that atmosphere that we have at home.”
The Cajuns open their home season Friday-Sunday in a three-game series with Stony Brook, following a Wednesday midweek road game at Northwestern State. Robichaux will likely start freshman Gunner Leger against the Demons, after Leger was among 13 pitchers to throw at least one inning in San Antonio.
Eight of those 13 arms were making their collegiate debuts, and three others had fewer than 20 innings of collegiate experience entering this season. Sunday starter Greg Milhorn, who missed much of 2014 with an injury, threw 362?3 innings and reliever Reagan Bazar threw 312?3 in their first Cajuns season last year, and are the closest thing that Robichaux has to veteran hurlers.
One who definitely looked the part of a veteran, despite Saturday marking his college debut, was freshman righthander Evan Guillory. The Jennings product scattered four singles and a double in five innings and didn’t allow a walk or an earned run while fanning seven for his first victory. He faced the minimum number over his final three innings.
“He made (UTSA) a different hitting team in game two,” Robichaux said. “He was throwing all three pitches for strikes, and the next guys kept attacking the zone. That’s the art of pitching, and that’s what (Guillory) has, the ability to mix all three of his pitches.”