Whitson Expects Sophomore Improvement

Karsten Whitson didn't fail to impress during his freshman season, but it also left him wanting more. The success can't be ignored. Whitson went 8-1 with a 2.40 ERA on his way to earning Freshman Pitcher of the Year honors from Perfect Game. Yet he is still haunted by weaknesses from last season. Whitson spent the offseason working to iron out those flaws.

The only issue Whitson dealt with throughout the year was going deep into games that he started. He averaged pitching just over five innings per start, and his longest start of the year was 6.2 innings against Alabama. He went at least six innings just three of his 19 starts as a freshman.

Some of that was by design.

The Florida coaching staff didn't want to tax Whitson's arm after he threw just 55 innings a shorter season when he was a senior at Chipley High School. He ended the year throwing 97.1 innings because of how far Florida advanced in the postseason, including two starts in the College World Series for Whitson.

"Last year, Sully was really protective of me and I'm grateful for that," Karsten Whitson said. "This year, we're looking to let me go a little longer and see what I can do later in games."

Whitson started his collegiate career with nine consecutive starts that were 5.1 innings or less. While Hudson Randall and Brian Johnson were usually eating up innings during the first two games of a weekend series, the bullpen was usually fresh enough to come in and finish the game off behind Whitson.

His shortest start of the season was 3.1 innings against Manhattan in the first game of the Gainesville Regional, but Whitson was pulled when Florida had a 16-0 in the fourth inning. The goal was to save his arm for a potential start if the Gators needed him later in the weekend. Florida swept through the weekend with two wins over Miami and his arm got a rest.

He didn't go deep into games, but he didn't wipe out the bullpen with terrible outings either. Ignoring the Manhattan start where he was purposely pulled early, Whitson went less than five innings during just four of the 18 other starts. He never went less than four innings in a game other than Manhattan.

The focus now turns towards working into the late innings of a game. Part of it is unavoidable with a pitcher like Whitson. He's a strikeout pitcher whose pitches are good enough to miss bats. However, the consensus between Florida players and coaches is that the improved command Whitson has shown this offseason will allow him to pitch longer.

"It's command overall," Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan. "He has always been a power pitcher. He's not going to pitch like Hudson Randall. Hudson has a good feel for getting outs early in the count, but Karsten is more of a strikeout guy. We're not going to ask him to pitch like Hudson. I do think he's much better now than a year ago at keeping that pitch count down a little bit."

The slider has been Whitson's strikeout pitch since high school, but he wasn't happy with how he located it as a freshman. That has improved during the offseason, as well as the constant improvement from his changeup. Whitson threw the changeup only a handful of times in his first start last season before gradually throwing it more as the season continued.

Regardless of what he worked on or changed in the offseason, the biggest benefit for Whitson this season will be that his freshman year is over. The improvement from freshman to sophomore year isn't as much about mechanical changes as it is comfort.

"A lot of it is just confidence," Brian Johnson said about the changes from freshman to sophomore year. "You know what to expect. You've been on the road to big SEC games and you've been to the College World Series. It's just about knowing the ropes and what you're going to go through."

Fightin Gators Top Stories