McMahon, Jones will retool starting rotation


Published: Monday, January 20, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 19, 2003 at 10:31 p.m.

There is a high level of uncertainty facing the Florida baseball team as it enters the upcoming season. Coach Pat McMahon has the formidable task of replacing an entire infield and two outfield positions.

But as the unranked Gators open practice for their 2003 season today at McKethan Stadium, they will continue to search for an answer to their most pressing question: Who will comprise this year's starting pitching rotation?

Unlike last year, when three or four top candidates were battling for starting spots early in the season, this year has no clear-cut front-runners.

"We've got some ideas," said McMahon, who led the Gators to a 46-19 record in his first season as Florida's coach last year. "But I think it's still premature to say who they are."

Don't expect any definitive answer until Florida opens its SEC schedule March 14 at Louisiana State. Before then, McMahon and pitching coach Ross Jones will have 21 games, including 19 at home, to monitor the successes and failures of their young, inexperienced staff. Florida's season begins Feb. 7 against visiting Mercer.

Among the potential starting candidates are sophomore right-hander Connor Falkenbach, sophomore left-hander Mike Pete, senior right-hander Ben Hedgecock and sophomore right-hander Tommy Boss.

"We have a couple of young freshmen whose arms we like also," McMahon said. "To get those questions answered, we're going to have to pitch a lot of guys early in the season."

Pete would seem to be the most obvious candidate among the bunch. He is the only left-hander among them and was 4-0 with a 5.40 ERA last year and had nine starts while being used primarily as a midweek starter. Pete's most memorable moment was when he pitched seven solid innings to pick up a win against Alabama as Florida fought off elimination in the SEC Tournament last year.

Hedgecock didn't have a start in 2002, but pitched 6 impressive innings in relief in Florida's season-ending 8-7 loss to Miami in the NCAA Regionals.

Falkenbach only pitched 19 innings last year, but ended the season with a team-best 1.40 ERA. The hard-throwing Boss was 0-1 with a 4.44 ERA in 18 relief appearances.

"Obviously you want to look at the returning players and see who has experience. But this staff doesn't have that," McMahon said. "This is a young and inexperienced staff and that's not ideal. But we have tremendous competition on our pitching staff and you'll see a lot of young guys respond."

Among those could be 6-foot-8 freshman right-hander Christian Madson. A top-10 national recruit from Valrico Bloomingdale High, Madson was drafted in the 14th round of last year's Major League draft by the Chicago White Sox. He passed on the professional ranks for now to join the Gators.

One pitcher who may be slow to join the Gators early in the season is senior left-hander Jamie Goldfarb, who is still recovering from offseason surgery on his left rotator cuff. Goldfarb injured the shoulder in a freak accident at the end of last season. Goldfarb jammed his shoulder into the outfield fence shagging fly balls during batting practice before the final game of Florida's season against Miami.

"He's rehabbing now, throwing some bullpens," McMahon said. "It's coming along great. He's doing well, but he won't be ready for day one."

Florida lost seniors Keith Ramsey and Jimmy Ramshaw from last year's staff as well as junior Alex Hart who is now in the Pittsburgh Pirates farm system. The three combined to go 29-10 last year.

"When you lose that much of a nucleus, it's tough," McMahon said.

You can reach Brandon Zimmerman by calling 374-5051 or by e-mail at zimmerb@gvillesun.com

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