The Word: What To Look For In Gunner Leger’s Return Friday
Friday night the Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns play host to 16th ranked Texas Longhorns in what should be an exciting opening weekend series.
Gunner Leger will be getting the call on Friday night for the Cajuns just as he's done most of his career at UL. As you know, he missed all of 2018 with an arm and a leg injury which both required surgery. So, the question is, how will he perform when he toes the rubber for the first time in game action since 2017?
I'm personally really excited because I've yet to see Gunner throw a pitch but when I got here the buzz around the baseball team was how stellar this kid is, so I'm particularly amped up to see what he's got.
What can we expect? Well, I can tell you what not to expect, don't expect him to go out there and throw over 100 pitches. Coach Robe is going to have him on a pitch count and will monitor him closely if there's anyone who knows Gunner its Coach Robe.
When we've gotten an opportunity to talk to Gunner I asked him how his control and velocity were coming along. He said, "The velocity is coming...I don't even think we own a radar gun, so I couldn't really tell you, it feels better, the past two weeks I kinda feel like I've got a little bit of a jump back where I don't have to grunt to throw 83, so that's a good thing (he said jokingly)."
He went onto talk about his command saying, "Command is spotty right now but as long as I feel healthy and I feel good I know that'll come back to me."
I also got the opportunity to talk to Associate Head Coach Anthony Babineaux about Gunner and he had this to say, "He's definitely good to go for Friday night. Now, what I don't know is are we going to see the All-American Gunner from the last three years or are we going to see Gunner Leger who hasn't pitched since the end of the 2017 season."
Coach Bab goes onto mention that he threw in two inter-squad games the previous two Friday nights and classified his first outing as good. He said, "his velocity was pretty much back to where it was (no radar guns though, which I'm a fan of) and his command was good, not great like we're used to seeing but it was good."
How did he fare last Friday? Babineaux mentioned, "the command, if you'd ask him, I have no problem saying this because he'd say the same thing because he's an ultimate competitor, was not good." Coach goes onto say that he walked a couple of guys which isn't like him but reminds you that he hasn't thrown in a real game since the end of May 2017. However, coach says there's still a chance that he could go out and be the Gunner everyone remembers, "he competes at such a high level, he prepares at such a high level, he thinks at such a high level that's just Gunner."
When I say I'm a fan of no radar gun, much like Coach Robicheaux, I believe that a pitcher can be just as effective, if not more when he's not trying to throw the ball 100 mph and by everybody. I like a guy who actually goes out there and pitches. What I mean by that is, a guy who isn't afraid to pitch inside, changes speeds, hits his spots, and who knows how and when to throw a ball in order to get a hitter to chase.
So, what should you be looking for from Gunner on Friday night?
For me, I heard he wasn't the hardest thrower (high 80's) so I'm not overly concerned about his velocity, from all accounts it seems like his velocity is coming back just fine anyways.
The big concern I have and the thing I'll be looking at the most is where his command is because from what you've heard via him and coach Babineaux it hasn't been stellar just yet.
A guy who can throw 95+ can get away with more mistakes due to sheer velocity but it doesn't seem like that's Gunner's game. I want to see how he attacks hitters and how he attacks the strike-zone.
Gunner features a two and four-seam fastball, a filthy change-up where the bottom falls out of it, and a show-me curveball he uses to get over for strikes.
I'm going to be looking to see if he can get ahead with his fastball consistently and put it where he wants to, this will put himself in positive pitcher counts (0-1, 0-2, 1-2). From there if he's ahead it should allow him to utilize his devastating change-up to keep hitters off-balance or climb the ladder with a fastball to get them to chase or to change their eye level.
I'll also be looking to see where his curveball is, can he get that over for a strike when he needs to in order to get the hitters off rhythm. For example, if he mainly features his fastballs on first pitches the first time through the lineup, can he get the hitters off rhythm by literally throwing them a curveball to start an at-bat for a strike? That will surprise the Texas hitters and he'll be pitching from ahead, exactly where he wants to be.
If Gunner falls behind in counts, not able to get ahead with his fastball and spot up like he always has then it could be a struggle. You'll see him constantly pitching from behind, a lot of full counts, foul balls, and walks. If that's the case, it'll be a short opening day for Mr. Leger.
Honestly, it's just great to have Gunner back on the bump and healthy. A healthy Gunner this season should do a lot for this team and has he gets feet back under him on the mound hopefully we'll see that All-American Gunner I've heard so much about.