O'Sullivan, Gators open season against Duke
Published: Friday, February 15, 2013 at 7:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, February 15, 2013 at 4:49 p.m.
With so much player turnover in college baseball, teams often undergo a makeover every year or two. That's what the Florida Gators have been going through the past three or four months.
Who: Duke at No. 17 Florida
When: 7 tonight
TV: Sun Sports
A total body/lineup makeover.
This will be a dramatically different UF team that opens the 2013 season tonight against Duke.
Gone is most of the home-run power, gone are most of the stars who propelled the Gators to the College World Series the past three seasons.
The Gators will try to get back to Omaha this year using much different methods.
Say hello to small ball.
“To put things in perspective, we've lost 28 players in the last two years — 11 recruits and 17 players off the team to pro baseball,” UF coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. “We're getting some very, very good players, but we're losing some as well. That's the world we live in.
“But when you dissect our team and what their strengths are … we can run and we're athletic, and we're going to do that. You can certainly win. You look at the teams that win in Omaha every year. It's not about home runs and that type of things.
“Would I love to have (Mike) Zunino back, and (Preston) Tucker? Absolutely. But I'm very proud of who we have and what we've been able to do. This team has a chance to be very successful. It's just going to be in a different way.”
Last year's stars are all pretty much gone, including Zunino, Tucker, Brian Johnson, Nolan Fontana, Daniel Pigott, Hudson Randall, Austin Maddox, Steven Rodriguez and Greg Larson.
Tonight, the Gators will unveil an almost all-new lineup and an almost all-new pitching staff.
For the first few weeks of the season, leading up to the start of SEC play, O'Sullivan said the Gators will be fluid in terms of their starting lineup.
“We always do that,” he said. “We've never been a staff that has set their lineup for Game 1 and it stay the same through Game 56.
“We've had a lot of players who have worked hard and earned the right to play and show what they can do. We have 12 to 13 position players that we do feel good about. We'll kind of rotate those guys in and out and see what they can do. We've pretty much always done that.”
The staples in the lineup figure to be second baseman Casey Turgeon, freshman shortstop Richie Martin, catcher Taylor Gushue and outfielder Justin Shafer.
Whatever the lineup combination, the Gators expect to have far less power than a year ago, when UF hit 75 home runs. Of the 75, only 14 were produced by returning players.
“It's definitely a different feel than we had last year,” said Gushue, who takes over for Zunino behind the plate. “All the power we had in the lineup last year, it's unmatched.
“But we have so much more speed than we had last year. There are different facets to our game we can add because we have so much speed. That's one of the pieces of the puzzle that's pretty cool.
“Are we going to hit as many home runs as last year? No. But we're going to do other things to put us on the board. That's who we're going to have to be this year.”
On the mound, with junior right-hander Karsten Whitson out for the season, the Gators return only one starting pitcher — junior Jonathon Crawford, the Friday night starter.
Sources confirmed Thursday that Whitson underwent a procedure on his sore throwing shoulder by Dr. James Andrews and will not pitch again this season.
Along with Crawford, the other starters heading into the opening series are true freshman Tucker Simpson and Shafer, UF's newest two-way player.
“Justin didn't pitch a whole lot last year because we didn't need him to,” O'Sullivan said. “He's earned his starting role. Our hitters are 2-for-38 against him since we started scrimmaging.
“We originally had him slotted in the (bullpen). He's been really good. I think he's kind of forced our hand to put him in a starting role.”
O'Sullivan said Simpson, a highly rated true freshman, also has earned his role as the No. 2 starter.
“He's 6-6 and he's got a great feel for the strike zone,” O'Sullivan said. “He's got four pitches. He's got an advanced feel for a changeup, and he's around the zone. The most important thing is he's very competitive.
“He's pitched in some big games. He's been on the national scene for quite some time. He's certainly ready for this challenge.”
As for the bullpen, O'Sullivan said he'll rotate a number of players over the next few weeks and eventually make a decision on a closer.
Overall, there will be many new faces in many new roles this season. But the goal is the same: get to Omaha.
“If you ask most anybody in the country right now, they feel good about their team. Everybody is undefeated,” O'Sullivan said. “But we do feel good about ourselves.
“We also understand that everybody we play is going to be very talented and certainly very capable of beating us. We're a youthful group. There are going to be some ups and downs. But we have been practicing well. We've got some good camaraderie.”
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.
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