Robichaux’s Ragin’ Cajuns Relying On Pitching And Defense
Pitching, defense and timely hitting. It's the holy trinity of baseball. You can find it in the Book of Robe.
Right now, the Ragin' Cajuns are chugging along with only two parts of the engine. Head Coach Tony Robichaux reminded fans all season that this isn't the same team that clubbed home runs and dropped down bunt singles like the 58-win team. This year's squad is 7th in the Sun Belt in runs scored, but the pitching staff is tops in the conference in team ERA.
Instead of harping on the hitters, Coach Robichaux is leaning on his arms and his gloves.
"We have to flip this, and we have to pitch and play defense," Robichaux said. "We can't let games get away from us with the pitching staff. We just can't."
Several of the Cajuns' losses this year were products of a late inning rally from the opponent. In years past, Robe's lineups could go off for six or seven runs and flip the game on its head. That's easier said than done this season. It's not for lack of talent, it's the "timely" part of the hitting that eluded them so far.
Robe wants his pitchers to have tunnel vision, embracing a predatory approach on the mound. If they're worrying about when the runs will come, they're losing focus on the fight at hand.
"The pitchers have the mindset to go take care of their job, and not be run-beggers," Robichaux said about developing his pitchers. He added, "They're taught in the classroom in the fall over twenty something hours, don't rely on runs. That's not your job as a pitcher. Don't come in and holler at the hitters to hit, or you'll be finished. Don't look around. Don't look at the scoreboard. You got one job to do, go out there and give us a chance to win."
His starters (Gunner Leger, Wyatt Marks, Nick Lee, Evan Guillory) are all cool characters, with a shared focus that defies their status as underclassmen. It's a testament to their makeup and Robe's training that they carry the load of leadership so comfortably.
Robichaux's pitchers have it in their blood. He can teach technique and approach, but a fighter's mentality typically comes from within.
Baseball is a brutal game, and soft players often get broken. Robichaux doesn't coddle his players, but that's only because he knows the opponent isn't going to treat them to a shred of mercy either.
"If you're looking for ten runs on Friday night against South Alabama, then don't pitch," Robichaux said."
Three games back of the Jaguars in the conference, it would be fair to say there is a fair amount of pressure on Robichaux's pitching staff heading into a pivotal weekend. Pressure isn't a word Robichaux agrees with much though, and he definitely knows his way around a dictionary.
"We don't look at it as pressure, we look at it as our job," Robichaux said. He had a different idea of pressure for Gunner Leger, in the form of Jags' ace Kevin Hill, "I'll tell you what would be pressure, was if we needed to score twelve runs to beat him. That would be pressure."
Even in his joke, there is silent confidence in his staff. He knows with Gunner on the mound, his hitters always have a chance to win.
Lee, Marks, Leger and Guillory all pitched with their backs against the wall at some point this season, and with the help of a wicked bullpen, they collected a lot of close victories. As Robichaux said, they can't rely on a barrage of runs to cascade down from the heavens.
In his eyes, all they need is one run.
"Get your one, and go to work," Robichaux stated plainly. "That's the kind of mentality we want in our pitchers, not to look left and right and cry about not having any runs. Go man up on the mound. You're the most important guy out there, or you wouldn't be ten inches higher than everybody else, so go out there and take care of your business."
The pitcher might be the most important player on the field, but he relies on the other guys behind him to help with the heavy lifting. That's when the "defense" portion of Robichaux's formula for success (pitching, defense, timely hitting) comes in.
If there's one trait that translates from the mound to the field, it's toughness.
If you want a prime example of toughness, look no further than infielder/outfielder/Swiss Army Knife Joe Robbins.
Not only does Robbins play all over the field for Robe, he's the type of player that his coach said he has to look out for because he will try to sneak on the field after "duct taping" his body back together.
It doesn't matter if Robbins is feeling less than 100 percent, Robe knows he can count on his senior.
"Wherever he's going to be, he's going to tape it up and throw down," Robe said proudly. "He doesn't come up to you and say, 'I didn't have my Muscle Milk this morning so I don't know if I'm going to be really good tonight. I lost my foam roller, and I don't know if I can roll out my hamstrings.'"
The truth is, at this phase of the season, almost everyone is banged up or nursing some type of injury. Robbins wasn't close to 100 percent when Coach Robe called on him to drop down a squeeze bunt over the weekend against App State, but he came in to pinch hit and delivered a run that led to a rally. He was just doing his job, and he wasn't going to let a little pain stop him.
Another chapter in the Book of Robe explains the concept of toughness, and it reads like this:
"Mentally tough athletes do one thing, they go throw down with what they have. If they have 76 percent on Friday, they throw down with all 76. They show back up Saturday and they have 56 percent, they throw down with all 56," Robichaux explained. "Weak players have to feel good to be good, and the great ones don't...it's not how they feel, it's how they act."
How many major leaguers are at 100 percent when they get to October? The answer is zero. The college grind is different, but the same philosophy applies.
Postseason play is on the horizon. Soon, the Ragin' Cajuns will be in survival mode. They will continue to ride their pitching and defense, and if the bats get hot, the more the merrier.
The team operates like the players, if a parts of the machinery aren't working properly, push right through.