Cajuns Pitching Has Some Depth – From the Bird’s Nest
You like jigsaw puzzles?
I personally am not a big fan. I don't think I have the patience. And, it seems, everytime I pick up a piece and think it's going to fit, it doesn't and I have to start searching again.
Tony Robichaux is hoping the Cajuns' pitching puzzle is a little easier.
The Cajuns suffered some crucial losses from last year's pitching staff, but return some key components as they prepare for the 2012 season.
The Cajuns must replace 2/3 of their weekend rotation and their most reliable reliever from a year ago. Departed seniors Taylor Hubbell, T. J. Geith and Joey Satriano combined for 46% of the innings pitched by the staff last year. Randall Bulliard, Ryland Parker, Michael Cook and Blake Wascom have also departed from the bullpen.
But Robichaux is high on many of his newcomers to the staff and is hoping for improvement from the returnees as the Cajuns hope to be strong on the mound again. Louisiana's team ERA of 3.85 was third in the league last year, behind FIU and Troy.
"I think we've figured out which guys are going to be able to pitch for us this year," Robichaux said. "Now we have to figure out their roles."
One role Robichaux shouldn't have to worry about is the guy he sends out on Friday night. Jordan Nicholson (5-2, 2.51) was the Cajuns' best pitcher down the stretch a year ago. Nicholson's ERA was third best in the Sun Belt a year ago and he allowed just 65 hits in 71.2 innings pitched.
The key to the Cajuns' pitching staff could be senior Joe Zimmerman, who will probably start the season as the Saturday starter. Consistency was Zimmerman's biggest issue a year ago. But there were some games where the UNO transfer was dominant. If he has more of those outings this year, he'll improve greatly on his 1-3 record and 4.71 ERA. "He has good enough stuff to win a lot of games for us this year," Robichaux said.
After that, it gets a little more interesting.
Robichaux has several candidates to man the third spot, as well as the starting spot in the midweek. Junior Chase Traffica stepped up in the second half of the season and posted a 1-0 record with a 3.38 ERA, pitching mostly in long and middle relief. He could be ready to step into a starting role.
A couple of junior college lefties are also in the mix. Jordan Harrison (6-1, 185) and Chris Griffit (6-2, 195) will both pitch a lot for the Cajuns this year. Harrison throws harder, while Griffit is a more traditional lefthander.
And, freshman Austin Robichaux could vie for a starting spot as well. Robichaux has three pitches and good control, and room to grow at 6-5, 160. He's been in Robichaux's pitching system for, oh, about eighteen years.
The Cajuns return some experience on the back end. Sophomore right-handers Matt Hicks (3-1, 3,85) and Caleb Kellogg (1-0, 5 saves, 3.86) combined to throw 51 2/3 innings a year ago. They'll probably remain late inning relievers. Junior college transfer Kendall Mayer (6-2, 205) could help there. Another JUCO righthander, Derek Howell (5-11. 185) is also in the bullpen mix.
Robichaux has also been very impressed with freshman Cord Cockrell. The 6-1, 170 lb. product of Acadiana High School has been outstanding in both the fall and spring intersquads. "He hasn't given up much this fall or spring. He's got a chance to pitch this year as a freshman," Robichaux said.
Righthander Ben Carter, a transfer from LSU-Eunice has been nursing a tender arm and will be brought along slowly. MRI's have been negative. "If he's healthy, he can help us. But we're not going to rush him,"Robichaux said.
With all of the youth on offense, the Cajuns' pitching staff will have to step up, especially early in the season. Robichaux believes the pieces are there.
Now, he has to find a way to turn the pieces into a portrait.