Baseball: Has Leger pitched his final game for the Ragin' Cajuns?
Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, May 14, 2019
When Gunner Leger took the mound for one last time at The Tigue on Sunday, he had what UL coach Tony Robichaux said afterward was an opportunity “to potentially end his career right there … the way a winner should.”
That was not, however, intended to suggest for certain that Leger – a fifth-year senior who missed all of last season following leg and elbow injuries, and has had injury-related several setbacks this season – has thrown his final pitch for the Cajuns.
“I think he will (be available),” Robichaux said. “I think he’ll build some stamina back.”
Leger’s appearance Sunday on M.L. "Tigue" Moore Field, his first of any sort since April 18 at Texas-Arlington, came at the end of an 11-5 win over Georgia State that marked 25-28 UL’s third win in a row and fifth in its last six games.
He entered with two out in the eighth inning and the Cajuns clinging to a 6-5 lead, and fittingly ended things – after UL produced five runs in the top of the ninth, and after two men reached in the bottom of the inning – with his 284th career strikeout.
In his first three seasons as a Cajun, Leger – the Sun Belt Conference Pitcher of the Year and a Golden Spikes Award semifinalist after going 10-2 with a 1.97 ERA in 2017 – made at least 15 starts and struck out more than 80 while working more than 90 innings each year.
But in 2017, bypassing pro ball despite being selected in the 26th round of the Major League Baseball Draft and despite being offered sixth-round by the Miami Marlins, the crafty lefty underwent both a complicated surgery both to repair a calcified cyst and install a rod in his thigh and partial Tommy John surgery on his arm as well.
After sitting out 2018 to recover and rehab, he’s been limited by throwing-arm inflammation this year to 10 appearances including just four starts and only 28.1 innings.
“It’s been difficult,” said Leger, a product of Barbe High in Lake Charles and the only son of current UL football team receivers coach and recruiting coordinator Tim Leger.
“The whole experience, the two-and-a-half years, however long it’s been, has been interesting.
“And I’ve said from the get-go, before the season even started: It’s made me a better person,” he added. “It’s changed who I am and how I look at things and how I appreciate things.”
Leger began the season as UL’s Friday-night starter.
But after not making it past the fifth inning of any of his starts, he took some time off to heal and returned in a relief role.
The initial plan was for him to work first as UL’s closer, and eventually work his pitch count back up to where he could start again.
But that never materialized.
“He just doesn’t have the stamina that he once had,” Robichaux said.
Leger (1-3, 2.54 ERA, three saves) hasn’t worked more than 2.0 innings in a game since mid-March, and he’s had to take frequent down time between appearances.
Treated with anti-inflammatories, Leger also had to receive medical clearance before he threw Sunday.
With just three regular-season games remaining starting Thursday night at UL Monroe followed by a likely appearance in next week’s Sun Belt Tournament hosted by Coastal Carolina in Conway, South Carolina, it is indeed possible that he’ll get a chance to pitch again for the Cajuns.
“I think what he’s been working on, he knows what to do,” Robichaux said. “And I think that’s what’s gonna help him, is that he knows now what to do, and the parameters.”
Whatever happens, Leger – mature beyond his years – really does feel as if he’s grown from the challenges he’s had to face.
“So, I’m not glad I went through it – but I am kind of glad,” he said.
“You know, it’s something I’ll be able to teach my kids and use. I plan on coaching, (and) after my career is over I’ll be able to use that experience. So, it all happened for a reason.”