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Baseball: UL’s new weapon – Harrison adds pitching to his arsenal

UL outfielder Seth Harrison, shown here rounding second base during a win over ULM, is playing an even larger role with the Cajuns these days as a pitchers as well. 
UL outfielder Seth Harrison, shown here rounding second base during a win over ULM, is playing an even larger role with the Cajuns these days as a pitchers as well. / Paul Kieu/pkieu@theadvertiser.com

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, April 5, 2013

After he threw his first pitch for UL, last Sunday in a save situation at Western Kentucky, the radar read 148.

On the day before April Fool’s, it was no joke. It’s just for that one toss, the gun was broke.

But Seth Harrison does throw heat – and can mix it up too – and that may be just the fix the Ragin’ Cajuns need to mend their bullpen woes.

Because now, Matt Hicks – who closed admirably for the Cajuns in the first half of their 2013 – isn’t the only reliever coach Tony Robichaux can turn to without a blink.

“It gives us some options,” said Robichaux, who knows Harrison really can throw in the 90-to-94 miles-per-hour range when the Jugs is working right.

They’re options Robichaux is bound to turn to in the 20-8 Cajuns’ three-game weekend series that gets under way tonight, especially against a Troy team hitting a Sun Belt Conference-high .310.

“He (Harrison) is a good arm, and I feel like we have two good arms at the back of the bullpen,” UL outfielder Ryan Leonards said. “We don’t have to rely just on Hicks. We know he can do it. But if we have two people than can do it, that makes us hard to beat.”

By all accounts, Harrison – a transfer from Hill College in Texas – threw rather well during intrasquad work in the fall.

“Then he came back (after Christmas break),” Leonards said, “and he was carving us up.”

But shortly before the Cajuns’ season began in mid-February, Harrison strained his throwing-arm elbow.

He was able to play in the outfield, but UL didn’t want to risk anything beyond that.

“I was throwing pretty good,” Harrison said, “and I just felt a little … it wasn’t a ‘pop,’ but … uncomfortable feeling, so just out of precaution they shut me down.

“We knew how good Harry (Harrison) was,” Robichaux added. “He had a good fall, a good, good early spring. We just wanted to make sure he was healthy, because he’s got a future ahead of him on that mound, is what I believe.”

Harrison – a product of Cy-Fair High in his native Houston-area town of Cypress, Texas – understood the decision.

That didn’t make it any easier to handle, however.

“I love pitching just as much as I like hitting,” Harrison said. “So, that little break – it kind of me hurt just a little bit, just because I couldn’t get on the mound and help my team.”

The righty made the most of the time he couldn’t throw, though, by playing often in the outfield and producing regularly at the plate.

He’s hitting .333, fourth among Cajun regulars, with one home run and a team-best five bunt singles. He’s scored a team-high 22 runs. And he’s hitting so well that even though he’s working out of the bullpen now, his bat has remained in the lineup at DH in UL’s last two games.

After making his Cajun mound debut at WKU, one week later than originally anticipated due to a sinus infection that kept him from going at Middle Tennessee, Harrison closed again Tuesday night in UL’s 8-5 non-conference win over McNeese State.

The junior earned his second save in as many opportunities after striking out three of the four Cowboy batters he faced.

“(Tuesday night) and last weekend – it was a lot of fun,” Harrison said. “I like to throw, and just strike other people out.”

While Harrison closed, Hicks got in 2.1 innings of work against McNeese.

The fellow Texan struck out the only batter he faced to get UL out of a three-run sixth, then pitched scoreless halves in the seventh and eighth.

Hicks remains one save shy of a UL school career-record 13, and two short of passing Justin Robichaux’s 2008 single-season record of nine.

With UL starters Ryan Wilson, Austin Robichaux and Cody Boutte making it to the seventh or deeper in seven of the Cajuns’ nine Sun Belt games so far this season, chances of skipping past the middle relievers in an otherwise thin pen and getting straight to Harrison or Hicks seem solid for the second half of the season.

Which of the two will come out when, however, will be decided largely on a situational basis.

Or maybe Tony Robichaux will just throw them both, like he did against McNeese State.

“If for some reason you (use) both of them in a game, you can shorten that game now,” the Cajun coach said. “You can bring Hicks in in the middle of a game, because he’s so good at calming things down.

“On the other hand,” Robichaux added, “we’d like use one guy one day, one guy the next day, and then maybe have them both ready again the next day. They’ve both got great ability to just calm things. So, we’ll see.”

LAGNIAPPE: Tonight’s starting pitcher for the Cajuns, Wilson, has allowed no more than two earned runs in each of his three SBC starts. … Cajuns third baseman Tyler Girouard has a 13-game hit streak and has reached base in 20 consecutive games. That’s the longest UL hitting streak since Mike Petello’s 14-gamer in 2011. Girouard is batting .500 (25-of-50) over the 13-game span, and a Sun Belt-high .436 (34-of-78) on the season. … UL is ranked among the top three in the Sun Belt Conference in batting average, slugging percentage, on-base percentage, runs, hits, RBI, homers and total bases. The Cajuns’ .306 team batting average is second in the SBC, trailing only Troy. … UL outfielder and leadoff hitter Dex Kjerstad has seven multi-hit games in his last nine outings.