Fontana Experiments With Different Approach

Nolan Fontana's patience at the plate made him a perfect fit as Florida's leadoff hitter during his first two seasons. Despite hitting eight home runs in his first two years, Fontana has led the Gators in walks during both of his seasons in Gainesville. However, that could change this season. Talks with the Florida coaches this offseason might have Fontana swinging more often in the spring.

"I talked to the coaches about it, and we just talked about when I'm in hitter's counts that I should try to be a little more aggressive and drive the ball," Nolan Fontana said. "I'm going to try and get a little more aggressive in the spring."

Fontana hasn't been the power threat that Preston Tucker and Mike Zunino have been in recent years, but his on-base percentage makes him the perfect player to hit in front of that duo. In his first two seasons, Fontana has posted on-base percentages of .437 and .414, respectively.

His patient approach is the way Fontana has always been at the plate. It works well as a lead off hitter because it also helps the middle of the Florida order see what types of pitches the opposing team's pitcher is throwing.

"It's just about being picky," Fontana said. "It has helped us out as a team. This year, there are times to be patient and times to be aggressive."

Tucker and Zunino combined to drive in 33.5% of Florida's runs last season, and with Fontana on base 41.4% of the time in 2011, there were plenty of opportunities. His new approach that will have him swinging more often should produce more power and extra base hits, but he doesn't want it to sacrifice what has made him valuable to the team in recent years.

"Just try to get on base," Fontana said of his goal at the top of the order. "That's all I've really done and all I really try to do. There are guys behind me that can hit the ball quite a ways."

JOHNSON FRESH ARM: Brian Johnson didn't have an active fall on the mound, and that was by design. The junior left-hander and head coach Kevin O'Sullivan decided it would be best to dial back the innings Johnson threw in scrimmages.

He threw 79.2 innings in 2011 and went straight to pitch and hit for Team USA from there. When that was over, Johnson went to pitch and hit in the Cape Cod League the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox.

The heavy workload in 2011 earned Johnson a rest for the fall.

"I got plenty of rest," Johnson said. "When I got back in the fall, Sully and I worked out a plan together. My arm feels great because I got so much rest."

He threw a combined three innings during Florida's two scout days. The game was just to give scouts another look at Johnson as he heads into his first draft eligible season in college.

"It felt really good," Johnson said. "I'm not worried about velocity at all. I'm really happy with my off-speed. I've been throwing them all for strikes. I'm hitting my spots. The one thing I wanted to work on was my slider and keeping the ball below the knees with all my pitches."

DENT SERVING AS UTILITY PLAYER: Cody Dent is capable of playing all over the field, and that should be his role again this season. Dent will be in the fight for the second and third base job openings along with freshmen Josh Tobias and Casey Turgeon.

Dent said he worked at just shortstop and second base in the fall. He filled in at third base last postseason when the Gators needed some defensively stability, but Dent said he didn't work there much this fall. As Dent got in the lineup at third base last season, his bat heated up. He believes that happened because he got consistent at-bats.

"I felt that the more at-bats I got, I felt more comfortable at the plate," Dent said. "I got into a rhythm and a groove, then everything fell into place."

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