Coming into this baseball season, most of the questions revolving around the UL Ragin’ Cajuns’ prospects this spring revolved around the pitching staff.
In the first weekend series against No. 23 Texas, coach Tony Robichaux’s staff got a pretty good workout.
In fact, 11 pitchers got work, giving the Cajuns staff at least some indication of what to expect. Still, there were significant parts of the staff that didn't get a call.
Sure, there will be many other games before the March 15 Sun Belt Conference opener at Little Rock for the staff to better evaluate who needs to be on the mound when it matters most.
It got far too interesting for UL-Lafayette baseball fans Sunday on Tigue Moore Field at Russo Park.
With all the young arms to try out, though, even Robichaux acknowledged at his weekly press luncheon that he’s got his work cut out for him.
“We’re still on that process,” said Robichaux, whose Cajuns play at Louisiana Tech on Wednesday (moved from Tuesday because of impending weather) before traveling for a three-game series at Sam Houston State over the weekend.
“We’ve still got some guys that haven’t thrown.”
That list includes Michael Leaumont, Caleb Armstrong, southpaw Logan Savoy and Blake Schultz.
“That’s the challenge,” Robichaux said. “We have a lot of good arms. That’s why we’re going to try to — with the midweek and three-game series this weekend — keep trying to get some guys in there. Some guys have really good changeups and some guys really good curveballs. This is where we might be able to start mixing and matching before all of this is over after we ID what each one of them have.”
It’s hard to see that many pitchers enough to fully know which ones are going to be the most useful down the stretch.
“Opening day is hard to read,” Robichaux said. “I don’t think you can read a lot into it. In our business, it’s a 56-game schedule. In the big leagues, it’s 162. It takes a long time. The numbers will start to mean something later in the season, but opening weekend, I think you’ve got to be careful.”
When you think of how hard it is to get on base in baseball, it almost seems impossible to achieve.
There are several approaches. One is to go with a bullpen approach in midweek games, with no pitcher throwing more than two innings in any game. That gives Robichaux the ability to look at more pitchers.
Another is doing more mixing and matching during games, as has become popular in the Major Leagues. In other words, pitchers, especially left-handers, come in to face just one or two batters and quickly depart.
“We’re going to have the ability to do it because we’ve got more lefties coming out of the pen, but the challenge is we’ve got to get good at doing it,” Robichaux said. “In college, you can start mixing and matching. You’ve got to be real careful. It looks good on paper, but sometimes there’s a fine line between the college game and the pro game.”
There are more execution and chemistry issues involved with that approach.
“If we’re going to do it, we’ve got to be professional enough to know that I’m going in to get ... this one guy,” Robichaux said. “I’ve got to get him. I’ve got to bury him. If I don’t, I understand coach is coming back out and getting the ball from me. If you mix and match, you’re going to use a lot of arms.”
The adjustment, though, won’t just be for the young pitchers. In most seasons, Robichaux has more of an idea of weekend rotations and who the best candidates are for the back of the bullpen.
“We haven’t coached like that a long time either, because usually we had some frontline arms and one or two frontline closers, and that was kind of it,” he said. “Now, because of that changeover of so many new people, I think we’re going to have to keep running them out there and get it lined up once we see what they have and who can do what.”
In the past, the Cajuns have used young arms in the rotation. For now, most of the experimenting with the freshman pitchers will come in the bullpen, which can present a different kind of problem.
It’s been a persistent issue over the decades for the Ragin’ Cajuns athletic department.
“The relievers' challenge is when they come into the game, stuff has hit the fan,” Robichaux said. “So there’s disarray. He’s battling momentum. He’s battling a lot of things — traffic, runners everywhere.
“Certain guys are just good at flipping momentum and some throw gasoline at the fire. So you’ve got to figure out by putting them in that traffic, who can turn things around.”
The Sulphur duo of Connor Cooke and Chance Stone, for example, both had encouraging Division I debuts. But it’s only one outing and there’s a lot more evaluating ahead for this coaching staff.
“It is still a work in progress,” Robichaux said. “We do feel like we’ve got good arms. They’re just young. We just have to keep bringing them in and out and see how we want to do it.”
The goal is to have a good read on all the newcomers and injured returnees before Sun Belt play starts.