Toledo On Top of His Game

Tommy Toledo can't remember the last time he felt this good. He's used to spending time off the field treating injuries in the training room. This offseason, the right-hander hasn't experienced one. Each outing during offseason scrimmages has allowed Toledo to throw without any limitations, and the results haven't disappointed.

"I think this is as healthy as he has been since he has been here," Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "He's a favorite in the locker room, and we've all been with him through the tough times here. He deserves everything he's going to get this year."

The tough times have been numerous since stepping on campus. Toledo was a third round draft pick by the San Diego Padres out of Alonso High School, but he turned down the money to attend Florida.

Toledo was third on the team with 11 starts as a freshman, going 4-4 with a 4.40 ERA. But something wasn't right. In the offseason, Toledo needed surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder. That caused him to miss the 2009 season.

He returned in 2010 and started the year as the team's Friday night ace. He moved back to Sunday in the rotation to give the Gators an advantage during game three of a weekend, which was often the game that decided who would win the series.

His second Sunday start came against Charleston Southern after Florida won the first two games with relative ease. Toledo was shaky early in the game, but the leadoff hitter in the fourth inning would make his performance the least important thing.

Charleston Southern first baseman Derek Smith hit a line drive up the middle, striking Toledo directly in the face. He suffered multiple facial fractures and lost 20 pounds after not being able to eat solid food. Despite the injury, Toledo proved what Florida fans already knew.

Toughness is his best attribute on the mound.

It took Toledo only two months to recover from the injury, and he returned against Florida Atlantic to throw a shutout inning of relief. He continued to be used out of the bullpen last year, but a new start to the season means Toledo is back in competition for a spot in the starting rotation.

"This is the first time in a while that I've felt this good again," Toledo said. "I've been feeling a lot better. I'm finally back to 100% and where I used to be. My arm feels good and fresh."

His performance has even surprised the players around him.

"He's starting to get more of his confidence back," Florida catcher Mike Zunino said. "It was a big step last year for him to get back on the mound. He's pitching how he came in his freshman year. (Players say) he's back to the old Toledo."

The injury during last season also hurt his recovery from the labrum surgery. Toledo felt completely healthy to start last season, but it takes sometimes up to 18 months for pitches to fully recover and get their velocity back.

"It's never a certain date and time thing," Toledo said. "You never know how long it's going to take to recover from it. You're going to have ups and downs coming back from it. You just have to make sure you do your arm care, but you never really know when you're back to 100%."

The difference this season is Toledo returns to a rotation that returns all key contributors from last season. Alex Panteliodis returns after winning eleven games, and Freshman All-Americans Brian Johnson and Hudson Randall seemed locked into the weekend rotation to start their sophomore years. The Gators also added Karsten Whitson, who came to school despite being the No. 9 overall pick in the 2010 MLB Draft.

It's a tough road for Toledo to get his job in the weekend rotation back, but he doesn't look at it like that. The depth excites him. He looks around the locker room and sees pitchers just as good as him. It can only mean good things for the team this spring.

"It's definitely an advantage for us because if any guy has a rough game, the next guy can come in and finish it up," Toledo said. "Everybody is capable of throwing a lot of innings, and we have a good chance to do something really good this year with all the pitching we have."

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