Fontana Fuels Florida Offense

Nolan Fontana was pressing. He watched his average and confidence take a tumble as his approach at the plate started to hurt him. The junior has always been a patient hitter, leading the Gators in walks during his first two seasons and currently in the lead this year. That can also force him to miss hittable pitches and cause unproductive at-bats. The fix at the plate was simple—stop thinking.

Fontana's approach at the plate has turned him into a dangerous hitter at the top of the Florida order. He sees pitches during at-bats, which is especially beneficial when he leads off the games and helps the other hitters to see what the opponent's pitcher throws.

As a freshman in 2010, Fontana posted a .437 on-base percentage. It fell to .414 during his sophomore year but was still second highest of regular contributors on the team. His current on-base percentage is .442, and his swing's rejuvenation has also jumpstarted the Florida offense.

Part of that came by not being so patient. Fontana and Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan had conversations during a recent slump about him swinging more at pitches in the strike zone.

"Sully says, ‘be patiently aggressive.' It's about picking your pitch out but not being too picky," Nolan Fontana said before Thursday's practice. "It's hard, but you've got to focus on it."

The talk worked. In the Gators' last five games, Fontana is 9-16 (.563) with six runs scored, two RBI and eight walks, giving him an on-base percentage of .708. With his resurgence, the Gators have won four of their last five games heading into a series with Georgia this weekend.

"It's key," Florida catcher Mike Zunino said of Fontana's play. "As long as we can have a couple guys hot, that's all that matters. We know sooner or later, everyone will be playing well at one time or another—hopefully at the end of the year."

Fontana's struggles at the plate even caused a demotion. After the Gators were shutout at Ole Miss on March 30, the coaches decide to push him down to the sixth spot in the order. After hitting leadoff for a majority of his career since coming to Gainesville, it was different but took some pressure off Fontana. Instead of being the first hitter to see the opposing pitcher, he watched closely as the other Florida hitters took their hacks, and he made adjustments from there.

At Tennessee on Sunday, Fontana was back in his familiar spot. In the two games since his return to the top of the order, the Gators have scored eight runs both times. It had been eight games since that happened before then.

The groove Fontana is in came from not missing his pitch. He still wants to work deep counts and see pitches, but if he has to swing earlier in the count, it will be at a ball he can hit hard. That has produced a confidence at the plate that has jumpstarted his bat and the Florida offense.

"Instead of the ball looking like it does, it looks a little bigger—like a grapefruit sometimes," Fontana said. "It's a softball size. That's when you're seeing the ball well.

"When you're hitting balls off the end of the bat or getting jammed and balls are falling for base hits, that's when you're seeing the ball well."

His old approach is still there. Fontana opened the Tennessee series last weekend with a 4-4 game at the plate. He didn't come out the next day and over swing or try to do too much at the plate. Instead, he went 0-1 with four walks. He'll take what opponents give him when he's in the batter's box and isn't afraid to take a walk. He now knows he can't go to the plate expecting one.

"I get in those modes where I'm being too patient and too picky," Fontana said. "That's what I've been doing lately—focusing just on getting the ball up and hitting it."


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