UL lefty Leger: 'He just carves people up'

Tim Buckley

He is 7-1 this season, tied for third-most victories in the country. He has a 0.95 ERA, tied for fourth-best nationally.

Gunner Leger lowered his ERA to 0.95 after last week's combined shutout win over Arkansas State.

UL coach Tony Robichaux offers a simple explanation for Ragin’ Cajuns pitcher’s Gunner Leger’s success.

“He’s just Gunner,” Robichaux said one night not long ago.

Upon further reflection, however, the answer is much more complex.

It starts with Leger’s knack for managing a game from the bump.

“Very rarely do I even have to go out to the mound and talk to him, because he’s so veteran-like,” Robichaux said. “He’s always there for you — whether you’re playing good or bad or whatever.

“He’s just meticulous in not giving in and not letting the game get away from him. … As a coach, I’d hate to play against him.”

Sure, Leger — a product of Barbe High in Lake Charles who is scheduled to start when UL opens a three-game Sun Belt Conference weekend series Friday night at Arkansas-Little Rock — allows a few hits along the way.

Not many, but some.

Yet, only five of the 34 he’s yielded in nine appearances over 56.2 innings this year have been for extra bases — three doubles, two homers.

Oh, and he has 56 strikeouts with just 13 walks, by the way.

Even when an opponent feels it might have something going against Leger, it typically must reconsider.

“You look back up,” Robichaux said, “and you’ve got zeroes still on the board.

“You’ve got nothing to show for it, because he gets the critical outs. He’s pitching so good before and after the hits he gives up.”

Against St. Peter’s earlier this season, he came without one out of a no-hitter.

But in the rare cases when he doesn’t have his absolute best stuff, as was the case in a shutout win over Arkansas State in which he allowed five hits over 7.0 innings, Leger typically finds a way to make things work anyway.

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“I don’t change anything mentally,” he said. “I just try to make adjustments.

“That’s what this game is about. You’ve got to make adjustments, in the middle of at-bats, in the middle of an inning, in the middle of a game.

“So my stuff is what it is that night,” Leger added. “I just try to get outs with it.”

The adjustments, Leger said, depend “on what you have, what you don’t have, what they (opponents) are doing.”

Sometimes all it takes is for Leger to let his defense work behind him.

More often than not, though, he’s the one making subtle alterations that produce in-your-face results.

The ace of UL’s staff has helped the Cajuns rank second as a team nationally behind only Oregon State in hits per nine innings allowed at just 6.61, and 13th in staff ERA at 3.09.

UL pitcher Gunner Leger, shown here against Arkansas State last week, is 7-1 this season.

“The times he does need us, we’re there for him,” fifth-year senior third baseman Joe Robbins said, “and even when we’re not there for him he picks himself up or he picks us up — which is great for us, because we know that even if we do make a mistake he’s up there and he’s gonna pitch his heart out there.”

Teammates, of course, love having Leger in front of them.

“Honestly, playing short behind Gunner — it’s incredible. Like, absolutely phenomenal,” senior shortstop Brad Antchak said. “He just carves people up.”

Yet, the question lingers: How?

Robbins and Antchak take a stab at answering.

“Nothing overpowering for a fastball, (but he) just puts it where he wants it,” Antchak said. “It’s super-impressive. He doesn’t miss many spots.”

“He keeps everybody off-balance. He may not be an overpowering lefty, or he might not throw Hogan (Harris’) speed of 95 (miles per hour), but the guy uses every pitch effectively in every count,” Robbins added. “He makes the pitches he needs to make, and he hits the locations. So you don’t really have to throw too hard when you’re doing all that.”

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Part of pulling it off is Leger’s presence on the mound.

Part as well, though, is the MLB Draft prospect’s ability to alter speeds on pitches thrown in the same tunnel.

His fastball has been clocked at more than 90 mph, but his changeup comes in under 80.

Robichaux likened him to Hunter Moody, who left UL in 2008 with a school career-high 31 wins in four years.

“They both pitch in a tunnel,” he said of Leger, who is 20-9 in his less-than-three-year Cajun career, and Moody.

“When you can stay in a tunnel … it’s very, very hard to pick up what’s going on, because the eye cannot (detect) a change of speed on a linear path.”

Not everyone, however, can use their changeup to fool hitters with such frequency.

Leger — a freshman All-American and the Sun Belt’s Freshman of the Year in 2015, and an all-SBC pick last year – can.

“It’s easy to teach it,” Robichaux said. “It’s hard to understand, and then it’s harder even to go do it — because it’s different hand speeds.

“Gunner can do that, and I think that’s what makes him so hard to hit.”

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Even that, though, isn’t the whole answer.

By rarely allowing anything more than singles, Leger also limits — sometimes even grinds to a halt — the running game of opponents.

“He makes you use up outs,” Robichaux said. “By the time you finally get to third, you’ve got two outs.

“Then I think he’s good at using not only what he has that night, but also figuring out what they’re gonna try to do to him. Are they gonna dive and take the changeup away, and go the other way? He’ll come back in. Are they gonna try to open up on him? Then now he can go back out.

“He’s a great body language-reader, too,” the Cajun coach added. “Our pitching system is really built on the previous pitch. The pitch you throw is a test; the body language tells you the answer. But you have to be able to read body language, and it’s a subtle ability.”


   WHO: UL (23-14-1, 10-4-1 Sun Belt) vs. Arkansas-Little Rock (14-23, 6-9)

   WHERE: Gary Hogan Field, Little Rock

   WHEN: 6 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday, 1 p.m. Sunday

   RADIO: KPEL 96.5 FM with Jay Walker and Jeff Schneider

   TV: None


   Friday night: LHP Gunner Leger (7-1, 0.95 ERA)

   Saturday: RHP Nick Lee (4-3, 5.36)

   Sunday: LHP Hogan Harris (3-0, 2.58)  


   ABOUT THE OPPONENT: Little Rock has dropped three of its last four, including a 10-6 home loss to Louisiana Tech on Wednesday night and losses in 2-of-3 at Texas-Arlington last weekend. … UL is unbeaten in 17 straight series; the Trojans are the last team to take a series from the Cajuns, in 2016. … Leading hitter: Hunter Owens (.369, 14 doubles, six homers, 34 RBI) 

   ABOUT THE CAJUNS: UL has won five straight since losing 3-2 to No. 8 LSU on April 11, including Wednesday night’s 9-2 victory over Southeastern Louisiana and a home sweep of Arkansas State last weekend. … Leading hitters: CF/RF Ishmael Edwards (.338), DH Todd Lott (.321), RF/DH Steven Sensley (.320, six homers, 27 RBI). … Edwards is riding a 13-game hitting streak.