Baton Rouge a barometer for Florida baseball
Published: Thursday, May 2, 2013 at 8:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, May 1, 2013 at 5:28 p.m.
After winning 12 of its 16 baseball games in April, Florida has managed to climb back into postseason contention.
Who: No. 21 Florida (25-20, 12-9 SEC) at No. 3 LSU (40-6, 16-5 SEC)
Where: Alex Box Stadium, Baton Rouge, La.
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 7:30 p.m. Friday, 1 p.m. Saturday
TV: ESPNU Thursday, CSS/Cox Friday, ESPN2 Saturday
With the calendar turned to May, the Gators (25-20, 12-9 SEC) begin a series on Thursday at No. 3 LSU that should provide a barometer for their recent progress.
“They've got arguably the best lineup in the league one through nine,” Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. “It's going to be a challenge, but hey, that's what you sign up for in this league.”
Florida is heading into the critical series unsure about its starting pitching rotation. Jonathon Crawford will start the series finale Saturday in Baton Rouge.
But the starters for tonight and Friday remain up in the air. Freshman lefty Danny Young started last Friday night, but was struck in the lip with a line drive, an injury that required 20 to 25 stitches to close.
“He's going to be cleared to pitch this weekend, but in all fairness to him, I don't feel good about starting him,” O'Sullivan said. “I think he probably needs to get his feet wet again.”
Freshman righty Jay Carmichael pitched an inning in an intrasquad game and could return to the rotation this weekend after being sidelined for a few weeks with an arm injury.
“To me, if he's healthy enough to come out of the pen, he's healthy enough to start," O'Sullivan said.
LSU (40-6, 16-5 SEC) has received a lift this season from speedy freshman shortstop Alex Bregman, who is batting a team-high .395 with 11 stolen bases in 12 attempts.
“He's extremely aggressive in all phases of his game,” O'Sullivan said. “He runs the bases aggressively. He plays defense aggressively. He's up there to hit. He's fun to watch. I don't like seeing him in the other dugout, but he's fun to watch.“
Controlling LSU on the bases will be one of the keys to the series. The Tigers have stolen 42 bases in 61 attempts this season.
“They're a fast team,” Florida freshman center fielder Richie Martin said. “We have to control the speed on the bases and make routine plays, do whatever we can to keep them off the bases and get timely hitting.”
Another factor to the series? The atmosphere. LSU routinely gets more than 5,000 fans for its SEC home games at Alex Box Stadium.
“The atmosphere is one thing, but then your opponent kind of adds to that,” O'Sullivan said. “I think we'll probably get a little bit of both this weekend.”
Said Martin: “We've heard their fans are intense. Some of the older players like Zack Powers and Jonathon Crawford talked about what it's going to be like and the intensity. It's going to be a fun atmosphere.”
LSU was swept by South Carolina at home last week, but bounced back Tuesday night to beat McNeese State, 7-3. Florida has made the most of its opportunities of late, winning its last three SEC series with strong pitching and timely hitting.
“We've put ourselves in position where we can make a push here at the end and get into the postseason,” O'Sullivan said. “But we have some work to do."
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