Veteran Pitchers Helping Lead

The veteran Florida pitching staff isn't only focused on their production on the mound this season. They're also focused on the future of the program. With the Gators expected to lose multiple pitchers after this season, the pitchers have already started preparing the freshmen for their roles this season and the future.

"We're looked at as more of a leader role," said Florida right-hander Hudson Randall, who won eleven games last season. "They look up to us and ask ‘what should I be doing here?' or ‘how should I handle this?' It's different things in practice to handle on the field or off the field of how to handle college life. I offer as much information as I can."

The transition isn't easy. Freshmen usually come to a school like Florida with eye-popping numbers in high school. John Magliozzi struck out 73 hitters in 42 innings during his junior season at the Dexter School. Left-hander Corey Stump struck out 61 hitters in 43 innings last season at Lakewood Christian High School.

Right-hander Ryan Harris will have a shot to earn a role out of the bullpen, while left-hander Bobby Poyner is recovering from Tommy John Surgery that caused him to miss his senior season. Justin Shafer could serve as a two-way player, after doing it in high school and getting time on the mound and in the field this fall.

The high school numbers for most players at Florida were dominant. However, as the veterans of the Gators' current pitching staff learned early in their careers, you have to forget about the strikeouts to have success.

"The biggest thing is not trying to strike everybody out," Florida left-hander Brian Johnson said. "Just throw strikes and let them hit the ball. You've got a great defense behind you. That's the biggest adjustment in high school when you think you've got to do everything.

"You feel like you've got to take it on all your shoulders, but it's not that at all. It's the exact opposite. You've got seven guys behind you to let them go to work."

For Randall and Johnson, it was older pitchers that taught them that early. Kevin Chapman was influential in Randall's development from the midweek starter to the team's most consistent pitcher during his freshman year. For Johnson, it was Nick Maronde that helped him slow things down when he is on the mound.

Johnson went from striking out most hitters he faced in high school to pitching to contact in college, while still getting his share of swings and misses. That hasn't been an issue for Randall. His fastball sits in the upper 80s, so he hasn't been a strikeout pitcher at any point in his career. However, there's still a learning curve that he has to help the freshmen with.

"They just have to realize they're not going to hit as many home runs or strike out as many people," Randall said. "It's just a step up, and you have to step your game up."

As starting pitchers from the beginning of their career, Johnson and Randall had some time to get adjusted from the start of the game. For others, it's about starting in the bullpen and becoming dependable from the start.

That's the path Greg Larson's career went. He was a trusted right-hander out of the bullpen as a freshman, called on whenever the Gators needed a ground ball. His role has remained the same as he now heads into his senior season.

The relievers are usually called on late in the game, and their performance can make or break the outcome. That makes it even more difficult for the freshmen.

"You've got to slow everything down," Larson said. "The college game is so much faster. We can't simulate playing in front of 10,000 fans at practice, but I just try to tell them to slow it down and take it one pitch at a time. You've got to simplify things."

The freshmen class has plenty of arms that could contribute this year, but there aren't many immediate openings. The Gators return Randall, Johnson and Karsten Whitson from last year's trio of starters. Larson, Austin Maddox and Steven Rodriguez give the Gators three quality arms at the back end of the bullpen that should be the most trusted late in games.

The older players have advised the freshmen to avoid the perceived depth chart and force the coaches to put them on the mound.

"They need to have the mindset that even though there are some guys that have been starting in their spots for two years now that it shouldn't bother them," Randall said. "They need to go out and push them to get better but also make themselves better. They shouldn't be afraid to be able to contribute right off the bat."

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