Florida righty Jack Leftwich set a goal before the season began to crack the weekend rotation before the end of his freshman year.
With the way Leftwich pitched Saturday, the 6-foot-4, 210-pound hurler from Orlando could find himself a fixture in the rotation for the rest of the season.
Leftwich bounced back from a shaky first inning to win his first SEC start as No. 1 Florida rolled to a 12-3 win over Auburn before a crowd of 4,018 at McKethan Stadium.
Leftwich delivered the kind of performance Florida has been looking for in a third starter this season, allowing three earned runs over 6.2 innings, with one walk and seven strikeouts. Of his 93 pitches, 68 were for strikes.
“I was getting ahead of the hitters, throwing all of my pitches for strikes, which really helped,” Leftwich said. “I was just really focused every inning on getting the leadoff guy and then that makes my job a lot easier.”
There were some early jitters. Leftwich led off the game hitting Auburn shortstop Will Holland, then walked right fielder Steven Williams. After getting catcher Brett Wright to fly out to center field, Leftwich gave up a three-run homer to Edouard Julien, who launched a first pitch fastball over the right field wall to give Auburn an early 3-0 lead.
That prompted a visit from Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan, who had righty Tyler Dyson warming up in the bullpen.
“He kind of lit a fire under me and told me I had to get it going,” Leftwich said.
Leftwich (4-1) allowed just three baserunners over the next 6.1 innings and retired 13 of the final 14 batters he faced.
“It says a lot about his maturity, his concentration level,” O’Sullivan said. “He didn’t get rattled. Obviously with young pitchers, you could easily see them come unglued there, but he stayed the course.”
Florida (36-10, 16-5 SEC) took its seventh straight SEC series, bouncing back from an 11-5 loss Friday night to take two of three from the Tigers (31-14, 10-11 SEC).
“It’s a really hard league and to get off to this kind of start is really impressive,” said Florida junior shortstop Deacon Liput, who went 2 for 3 with a homer and three RBIs in the win. “We’re looking to build from it.”
Florida put together a big fourth inning to take the lead, sending 11 players to the plate in a six-run frame. The big blow of the inning came from senior center fielder Nick Horvath, whose bases loaded, three-RBI double to the left-center field gap put Florida ahead to stay 4-3. Liput and left fielder Nelson Maldonado added RBI singles during the inning.
Auburn starter Andrew Mitchell (0-1) allowed four runs and four walks in three innings to take the loss. The Gators tacked on eight more runs against three Auburn relievers.
Second baseman Blake Reese put Florida up 7-3 with an RBI single in the fifth inning, while left fielder Austin Langworthy delivered a two-out, RBI single to put Florida up 8-3 in the sixth. Liput’s fifth home of the season, a two-run shot over the scoreboard in right field, extended UF’s lead to 10-3 in the seventh inning.
Langworthy added a sacrifice fly and first baseman Keenan Bell had an RBI single in the eighth inning.
The game didn’t end without a scare. Florida third baseman Jonathan India, batting a team-high .401 this season, left the game in the eighth inning after being hit by a pitch in his hand. India had walked in his prior four at bats, becoming the first UF batter to walk four times in a game since Buddy Reed against Vanderbilt in 2015.
“He said he was fine,” O’Sullivan said. “It was his glove hand and I didn’t want him to take a chance on a hard hit ball and we had a little bit of a lead. Just didn’t want to take any chances.”