Florida Gators baseball team's report card at midway point: Needs improvement in SEC play
Florida’s baseball season just passed the halfway point. If the Gators had a midterm report card, they might want to hide it from their parents.
The best you could give them is an Incomplete. There is half a season to go, after all.
But based on the first 28 games, the parents would wonder what happened to their supposedly brilliant kid.
“On paper, we have some of the best talent in the country,” pitcher Nick Pogue said.
On the field, they’ve often looked like freshmen who can find the library, much less the strike zone. It’s made for one of the more perplexing seasons in Kevin O’Sullivan’s 15 years as coach.
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“We can beat anybody on our schedule,” he said, “or we can lose to anybody on our schedule.”
Series with No. 2 Arkansas starts Thursday
Well, it would have been pretty hard to lose to FAMU on Tuesday night. But No. 2 Arkansas comes to town Thursday for a three-game series. Then come series against Vanderbilt and top-ranked Tennessee.
It’s like facing three straight SAT tests and not knowing if your No. 2 pencil will work. Though in this case, it’s your No. 2 and No. 3 starters, and your bullpen.
The Gators are 19-10 overall, but they’ve lost five straight SEC games. In a game against LSU two weeks ago, UF pitchers didn’t walk a batter.
They hit eight of them.
Things hit bottom, maybe, this past Saturday at Georgia. After losing the first two games, the Gators had a 6-3 lead in the seventh inning of Game 3. They lost 14-8.
That prompted a team meeting Monday. It wasn’t a Come-to-Jesus showdown featuring flying objects.
“Nothing earth-shattering,” O’Sullivan said. “It was just something we needed to discuss.”
It was the little things, like moving runners along, sliding at the right time, what makes a quality at-bat. The subtleties that differentiate a top-10 team from one wondering what’s gone wrong.
Gators need pitching depth
The biggest mystery has been pitching, a traditional strength under O’Sullivan. Hunter Barco has been a dominant No. 1 starter. Brandon Sproat has been a roll of the dice at No. 2.
It’s been an open audition. All that’s put a strain on the bullpen, which might get burned up before these SEC meat-grinder series get to the third game.
The only semi-steady relievers have been Blake Purnell and Nick Ficarrotta. The Gators began the season with nine pitchers who’d never thrown an inning of college baseball.
Freshmen need some breaking in, but O’Sullivan thought a couple of the young pitchers would step up. The wait continues.
“We don’t need them all to figure it out this year. It’s a learning experience,” he said. “We just need a couple of them to help us in certain spots.”
There was a sign of pitching hope Tuesday night. Pogue’s been struggling to return from Tommy John surgery. He had as many walks (seven) and outs in his two starts, but he pitched three hitless innings against FAMU.
“It’s confidence,” he said. “Trusting your stuff is back and your arm is fine.”
The Fabians shine for the Gators
Tuesday night’s other highlight was the Fabian Brothers. Freshman Deric hit a two-run homer in the fifth inning. Not to be outdone, junior Jud hit a solo homer one batter later.
“He’ll never let me one-up him,” Deric said.
It was probably the first time in UF history brothers have homered in the same game, much less the same inning. They don’t keep such records, so if you can remember any duo from the 1950s or before doing it, please contact the UF Sports Information office.
The Gators won 13-3. It was a nice way to start the second half of the season, but nobody was kidding themselves.
Arkansas isn’t FAMU. The Razorbacks have three solid starters and a good closer. They also do all those subtle things that win games.
The thing is, Florida can do all those things. And there’s adequate pitching in there somewhere. At least that’s what O’Sullivan’s preaching.
“They’re talented. They’ll figure it out,” he said. “But sometimes, we want it to happen sooner rather than later, you know.”
We’ve passed sooner, and later is approaching. UF’s best scenario is to weather the coming SEC storm and hope guys figure it out before the postseason.
If they don’t, the final report card will be one nobody around here wants to see.
David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun's sports columnist. Contact him at email@example.com. And follow him on Twitter: @DavidEWhitley