Gators Optimistic About Whitson's Health

The Gators got sophomore All-American Karsten Whitson back on the mound for his third start of the season and first since February 26 when he threw a perfect first inning against North Florida on Tuesday. The road back from his dead arm is over, as the right-hander is expected to start on Friday against LSU. The team is encouraged by the progress Whitson has made in recent weeks.

It wasn't hard to see that Karsten Whitson wasn't right during his first two starts of the year. After giving up five hits and two walks in five innings against Cal State Fullerton to open the season, Whitson looked good but not the elite form that led him to be named Perfect Game's Freshman Pitcher of the Year in 2011.

Whitson threw just 13 pitches in his next outing, coming against William & Mary. His velocity was down and his command wasn't sharp. O'Sullivan didn't waste time pulling him, and it was over a month before Whitson would see the mound again.

That came on Tuesday in a dominant performance. Whitson got the first batter to ground out before striking out back-to-back North Florida hitters on seven pitches.

"For a power arm like that, you really don't see (an eight-pitch inning) often," Florida catcher Mike Zunino said. "To see him come out and throw strikes while throwing both off-speed and fastball for strikes was really good to see."

Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan said on Wednesday that it was a flexor-pronator strain, a common injury in the elbow or forearm area for throwing athletes.

When Whitson wasn't on the mound, he tried his best to stay in games. He couldn't pitch in games while resting his arm, but Zunino stayed in constant contact with him, trying to help Whitson realize that the end of the season was the most important part.

They went through mental game situations to keep Whitson sharp once he was able to return to the mound.

"What he couldn't do physically, he was definitely going through his scenarios mentally," Zunino said. "He was getting himself mentally ready to pitch. We just wanted to reassure that it's a long season and there's no rush. I didn't want him to rush back too early because we do need him."

Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan will continue to be patient with Whitson, but he did say on Wednesday that he thinks "it's time to push forward." That will happen on Friday when Whitson is expected to get the start against LSU at 7 p.m. He'll be on an undetermined pitch count, but O'Sullivan said he "won't go seven innings."

"I think so," Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan said about whether or not he'll be able to count on Whitson this weekend. "We've basically taken it probably slower than he has wanted to. He looked really good in his (bullpen) on Sunday. After talking Sunday night, we felt like we needed to get him out there."

O'Sullivan was only able to judge off eight pitches during his start on Tuesday, but that wasn't the selling point that made him believe Whitson was ready. When the sophomore was locating pitches with his regular velocity in the bullpen before the game, O'Sullivan could tell his former first-round pick was getting back to where he used to be.

"His (pregame bullpen on Tuesday) was outstanding," O'Sullivan said. "He was commanding all three pitches. His arm feels good, and that's the most important things. He was around the plate and the slider was outstanding. The fastball velocity looked good. I'm not sure exactly what it was, but it looked good to me."

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