Pitchers ready for upcoming season

The Florida State pitching staff is still working out the kinks, and while Scott Sitz has been announced as the closer, the starting rotation is yet to be set. What role will Hunter Scantling fill as a senior?

History reminds us that baseball teams require a strong pitching staff to survive.

This concept resonates with the Seminoles, and, with opening day less than 10 days away, pitchers are diligently preparing for the challenge of facing opposing hitters. They're getting a lot of help from pitching coach Mike Bell, assistant athletic trainer Cory Couture and assistant strength coach Adam Ross.

"Every day, we have a routine with our trainer, Cory, with Coach Bell and our strength coach, Adam," Hunter Scantling said Thursday before practice. "Just getting stronger, getting faster, trying to get our endurance up, trying to get our pitch counts up so we can last longer in the games. Just the little things like that that make a big difference down the road."

Entering his senior year, Scantling -- along with the rest of the staff -- is still battling for a position in the rotation or a role in the bullpen. Even the team's top three starting pitcher spots remain undecided.

Similar to the position players, freshmen will play a prominent role.

"Well, you've got Luke Weaver, Bryant Holtmann, Mike Compton, Brandon Liebrandt, Peter Miller," said coach Mike Martin. "The first four I named are all freshmen. All five of them are certainly being looked at. All have the potential. We're just going to have to see who is going to be the Friday, Saturday, Sunday guy. There's still obviously a lot of trial and error with the staff."

The 'Noles are expecting big things out of their freshmen, but it's encouraging that the coaches already awarded the closer role to junior Scott Sitz.

"Were looking at Scotty Sitz right now as our closer," Martin said, "but that is not sealed in concrete. He has been challenged every time that he has been out there [in scrimmages]. We've put some of our better hitters at the plate and he answered the bell [Wednesday], and I'll be anxious to see how that materializes."

Closing out a game is one of the most important and difficult jobs a pitcher can face. While most fans envision a closer silencing an opponent to finish the ballgame, Bell expects resilience.

"The one thing that is kinda funny about the closer position," he said, "yeah, we'd all love to have Mariano Rivera or Trevor Hoffman. You hear about those guys 'cause they go to the Hall of Fame and stuff. But there's a lot of other closers out there that, when I say this, have lost a game or two. What's going to make our closer is when he doesn't have success on a Saturday, but we need him on a Sunday. Can he get back up the next day, be mentally tough and come back and ride that horse and have that short-term memory? And that's why we play 56 games. We don't have to wait a week like football and dwell over it. We come back and play the next day, and that's the challenging thing with baseball with young student athletes, getting them prepared to play every day."

Much of the responsibility of beginning the season mentally prepared every day falls on the pitchers. Scrimmages have made this process much easier on Scantling.

"Our scrimmages are big for everybody," he said. "Putting yourself in game situations, coming in with the mentality like you've gotta get out of it, you gotta get yourself out of certain situations. If you put yourself in a bad situation, you've gotta stay mentally tough. You gotta limit the amount of runs you give up. You can't give up the big innings. It's something the coaches have really implemented on us. It's just going to be really important for our young guys who get in those situations during the scrimmages so they're prepared for the season."

Besides mental fortitude, Florida State really values versatility in players. Scantling's adaptability to different roles makes him an asset to the team.

"He has the versatility and has done both start and relief, so that's a plus for us," said Bell. "No doubt, we love that. And having that flexibility, a guy that can start, a guy that can relieve, he can help bring along these younger guys and build our staff together."

Scantling understands the value of versatility and works to improve the flexibility in his pitches in addition to his roles.

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"My go-to pitch, I love going to the slider," he said. "I'm trying to establish my fastball and work on my changeup. In the past, it's been the slider. But this year, I'm trying to change up some things and come back with different pitches."

A wider range of pitches and flexibility to various scenarios helps players earn opportunities to pitch. Between Scantling and the rest of the staff, competition is the norm.

Bell believes the competitive nature of practices and scrimmages has set the staff up nicely for opening day.

"We've seen a lot of strides being made from the young guys as well as older guys," he said, "and I think if we can get them in the right sequence in the right situation, we have a very good chance to have a good staff. I really do."

Jonathan Bockman is the baseball reporter for NoleDigest.com and a student in Sport Management at Florida State.

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