Gators Slowly Returning Injured Players

Sometimes, cobwebs just need a little dusting. Coach Kevin O'Sullivan said right-hander Karsten Whitson did just that during his eight-pitch appearance in Tuesday's Georgia Southern midweek win. His outing in the top of the eighth inning marked the first relief of his college career.

"He hasn't quite been himself," O'Sullivan said of Whitson after Tuesday's game. "It's hard. You haven't pitched in six weeks and we're putting him in some tough situations, but (Tuesday night), he was outstanding."

O'Sullivan praised Whitson's slider and changeup and estimated the sophomore's velocity to have hovered around 94-96 mph.

Along with Whitson, the Gators have been rocked with injuries from heavyweights speckled on the roster this season. While Whitson was plagued with a groin injury in the fall and has struggled with getting back into his groove this season, starting senior centerfielder Tyler Thompson is out with a torn ACL from the Vanderbilt series, freshman third baseman Josh Tobias injured the hamate bone in his wrist in the South Carolina series and weekend ace, Hudson Randall, hasn't pitched since the Ole Miss series due to what O'Sullivan pinned as a tired arm.

Though O'Sullivan said Whitson had a "sharp" outing on Tuesday, the sophomore is not returning to the starting weekend rotation on the mound against Georgia this weekend.

Sophomore Jonathon Crawford is expected to be Friday's starter and SEC Player of the Week Brian Johnson is slated for Saturday. Randall will make his return nestled in Sunday's starting hole.

O'Sullivan said Randall looked great in the bullpen he threw Tuesday and that the junior is "pain-free."

"We're slowly but surely getting healthy," O'Sullivan said. "And he'll be ready to go this weekend."

Mike Zunino said the most crucial aspect of easing both Whitson and Randall's returns on the mound is regaining the mental aspect of the game.

"They just need to get the confidence," Zunino said.

Zunino said Whitson's outing on Tuesday was the best he had seen from him in a long time and noted his fastball and slider command were on-point.

"That inning I think was huge for him," Zunino said. "He was able to go out there and just let a rip. He wasn't trying to pace himself or put any time of meter on there to try and get us a few innings."

The catcher also said Whitson has been focusing on fine-tuning his mechanics and improving his accuracy lost from an absence on the mound.

Though Zunino caught the eight pitches for Whitson's outing Tuesday, Zunino said he hasn't caught a bullpen for Randall recently.

"I know he has been working back extremely hard to get back as he can," he said of Randall. "But just to see everybody healthy and throwing well right now is a good sign."

Despite Randall's return, O'Sullivan said Tobias isn't likely to emerge on the lineup until the end of the month.

"That one's going to take a little bit longer," he said of Tobias getting back into play. "He thinks he's ready this weekend, I doubt that. I think realistically, the Arkansas weekend or Kentucky — probably somewhere in there."

Even though a chunk of Florida's starters from the start of the season have been plucked from the lineup due to injuries, senior Preston Tucker said the depth of the team has pulled the Gators through.

"It's obviously tough knowing that we don't have that bat or that arm in the lineup, but we have so much depth on the team, we do expect the guys who come in to produce just as well as the starters do," Tucker said. "We intrasquad-ed in the fall and we know that the guys who don't play every day could start on most teams in the SEC."

Juniors Vickash Ramjit and Cody Dent have stepped up for the Gators, filling the voids left by Tobias at third base and Pigott's vacancy in left with his shift to take over in centerfield.

"Obviously, the more depth we have, the better," Tucker said.

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