LAFAYETTE — For the first time in a long time, Gunner Leger took a summer off.
There were no baseball activities for the Louisiana-Lafayette southpaw coming off a freshman year when he logged a team-high 114.1 innings. His arm had earned him some time off.
“In high school and all the select ball they’ve got going on now, you play all summer, all offseason and all that,” Leger said. “It was good to get some time off, spend a little time with my family and have a vacation.”
Leger wasn’t the only pitcher enjoying his summer vacation. All it took was a glance at the season workload for his prized young pitching staff for coach Tony Robichaux to nix summer work for a large chunk of his staff.
The Ragin’ Cajuns had 14 pitchers account for 588.1 innings last season, and 83 percent of those innings were thrown by just seven of them — four of whom were freshmen. While the Cajuns enjoyed a healthy amount of success last season, Robichaux had to lean heavily on just a few players to get there.
“I think some of us started to wear down toward the end of last season, throwing so many innings and being a little young,” Leger said.
That shouldn’t be the case in 2016.
“What’s going to be better this year than last year is we can pitch more people, because we can trust more people,” Robichaux said. “I think we can cut some workloads down on some people. I think we can shorten some games hopefully and not piecemeal and have maybe a (Will) Bacon start on a Tuesday, then take him out after three (innings) so he can be in the bullpen on the weekend. ...
“I think we’re going to be able to give guys some more clear-cut roles, which will take some innings off the starters.”
Added to the staff this offseason were highly touted freshmen Nick Lee and Hogan Harris. They’re joining a solid returning corps led by sophomores Leger, Wyatt Marks, Evan Guillory and Dylan Moore, and upperclassmen Bacon, Reagan Bazar and Chris Charpentier.
That depth should give Robichaux a luxury that not many college coaches can count on: having a readily identifiable four-man starting staff, one midweek starter and three weekend starters, to go with a handful of late-game options in the bullpen.
“I think we’re going to be able to set up a four-man rotation and then work from there,” Robichaux said. “It’s hard to get to that depth. If you even look at the big league level, it’s very hard for them to get to their fourth and fifth starters and count on them, yet they’re pulling from 60 to 70 pitchers.
“We’re pulling from 15 to get a four-man rotation, and we might be able to count on all four of those guys.”
With opening day still two weeks away, Robichaux said that rotation is still to be determined, though he sounds as though he has a good idea of what it might look like early on.
“I think Gunner’s up to the front of the bus because he can manage and control a game real well,” Robichaux said. “His handling of the pitching system is really good. I think Wyatt Marks is up there, and Nick Lee and Guillory, those four guys.
“Hogan, we’re going to have to decide what we’re going to do with him. He’s capable of starting; he’s also capable of blowing some people away at the back end of the game with Bacon, (Moore) and (Bazar).”
Lee and Harris were the big-ticket additions to the Cajuns’ signing class, and both have impressed in practice. Lee is a tall right-hander whom Robichaux said possesses the rare ability to both throw hard and locate his pitches. Harris possesses the same flame-throwing ability as Lee but has had a little more difficulty harnessing that power in the strike zone so far.
Neither of the freshmen appears to be overwhelmed by the prospect of facing college hitters.
“Nick and Hogan are bulldogs, man,” Leger said. “They’ve got great stuff, and they’re not afraid to come at you with it. I don’t think they’re going to back down from anybody, and I think the fans will see them throw some pretty important innings for us this year.”
Those important innings should ease the burden on some of the other pitchers as well, which should leave the pitching staff in good shape once the end of the season rolls around.
“We’ve got some good depth, and hopefully we can stay away from injury and stay away from overworking people,” Robichaux said. “And hopefully, toward the end of the season, (we will) have some pitchers that aren’t dragging.”