LAFAYETTE — Consider it one more promotion for freshman southpaw Gunner Leger.
The Barbe High School product pitched his first career game out of the bullpen, then threw well enough in a couple of mid-week starts to earn a shot at proving he can make a difference in the UL-Lafayette weekend rotation.
When given the opportunity, he made it impossible for coach Tony Robichaux to take him out of the game, firing eight innings of one-run ball against a ranked Alabama club to preserve what has been the Cajuns’ biggest series win of the year.
Now he’s been bumped to the Saturday spot in the rotation for this weekend’s series against Georgia State.
Ask Robichaux, and he might say that he wanted a right-lefty mix in his rotation. But Leger has made that mix possible through performance, leading all Cajuns starters with a 2-0 record and a 3.58 ERA.
Not bad for a guy who was facing high school hitters a year ago.
“It’s a cool thing coming in as a freshman and being able to contribute, being a part of the big picture,” Leger said. “But honestly I’m just doing what coach Robe needs me to do.”
For a freshman making his splash in college baseball, following direction has made transitioning to a new level of baseball easier.
In high school, Leger said if he could get through the middle of the other team’s order, he could get away with relaxing his focus on the other batters. That’s not the case at this level.
“There’s no real point where you can relax,” Leger said. “Even if you sit the first six down, seven through nine can still really hit. That’s the tough part. If you get through the middle of the lineup, the bottom of the lineup can still start something.”
But in order to be as effective as Leger’s been so far, it goes beyond missing the sweet spot of his opponent’s bat.
“You’ve got to learn how to control your emotions and how to control the game, because the game can easily control you,” Leger said.
Shortstop Blake Trahan has enjoyed playing behind Leger so far. An intense player in his own right, Trahan looks for that quality in his teammates and he sees it in Leger – sometimes too much.
“He’s going to bring his energy,” Trahan said. “Sometimes we have to work on calming him down a bit, and that’s how it should be. When he’s calmed down, he pitches well.”
Emotion is a handy tool for a ninth-inning reliever in a pressure situation. It can be taxing on a pitcher who needs to get through a lineup two or three times.
Leger is still learning how to keep his emotions in check when he’s on the mound.
“I’m really hard on myself, and sometimes a little bit too hard,” Leger said. “I’ve got to control my emotions and control the game. … That’s the biggest learning curve I’ve had.
“In high school you don’t experience as much failure as you do here, and you’ve got to learn that if you give up a double, you’ve got to control it and get the next guy.”
Fortunately for the Cajuns, Leger has proven himself to be a quick learner.