Crawford Has Carried Florida Rotation

The Gators entered the season with three starting pitchers that were all named Preseason All-Americans by at least one publication. However, none of those three have been the most valuable starting pitcher for No. 5 Florida. That has been sophomore Jonathon Crawford. After throwing just 3.2 innings as a freshman, the right-hander has molded into a consistent starter this season.

Crawford showed signs of his dominance during fall scrimmages. The Florida coaches were happy about that, but the real test would come when the lights came on during the season and Crawford was on the mound during a game.

After allowing five hits and four runs in one-third of an inning during the third game of the season against Cal State Fullerton, Crawford has been strong on the mound for Florida.

There have still been hiccups in his progression on the mound, but the sophomore is starting to put together a consistent stretch of starts on the mound. In his last four starts, Crawford has gone 20 innings, allowing 18 hits and just three runs (1.35 ERA) while striking out 17 hitters.

His fastball sits in the mid-90s while a plus slider that has given hitters fits. As the command of those pitches improve and his changeup gets better, Crawford has the potential to become one of the top pitchers in the SEC next year.

There are still times where he struggles. During Sunday's start against Arkansas, Crawford allowed a two-out double, hit a batter and gave up an RBI single in the first inning. It was the only run the Razorbacks would score in the first nine innings before scoring twice in the tenth inning to win it.

Despite his strong outing that followed, there are still times when his mechanics aren't sharp.

"Once I figured out my mechanics, just to stay back over the rubber, my fastball and slider felt really good," Jonathon Crawford said on Sunday.

His success has been even more important with the injury concerns and lack of production from other starting pitchers.

Hudson Randall has been strong since returning from a tired arm that kept him off the mound for two weeks, but his 3.46 ERA this season is over a point higher than the 2.17 ERA he posted while winning 11 games as a sophomore last season. Randall is expected to start Thursday night at Kentucky.

Karsten Whitson started the first two weekends of the season before being pulled from his second start in the first inning. He hasn't put together a start that mirrored last season, when he was named Perfect Game National Freshman Pitcher of the Year, since the return. Whitson is expected to start Friday night at Kentucky.

Brian Johnson has been the lone starter from the preseason rotation to remain healthy. The issue for him has been production. The junior is 5-3 with a 4.50 ERA and has gotten hurt by one big inning in most of his starts.

Crawford has been the most consistent starter.

It hasn't been easy for any of the Florida starting pitchers with the slump the offense has gone into in recent games. The one run that Crawford gave up in the first inning against Arkansas on Sunday was enough to keep him from picking up a win.

The Gators were able to get on the scoreboard to tie the game so that Crawford didn't pick up the loss, but pitching for an offense that is slumping isn't giving the Florida starters much room to work with.

"It's not fun," Crawford said of pitching with no run support. "It's a lot easier pitching with runs scored. It's not easy, but us pitchers, we have to try to keep the runs as low as possible and keep our hitters comfortable enough to get the lead."

The next challenge comes this weekend in Lexington. The Gators will face surprising No. 3 Kentucky (36-9/14-7 SEC) in a three-game series starting on Thursday.

Crawford's role isn't determined yet. He could be used as the closer with Austin Maddox dealing with tendonitis, or the Gators can decide between Crawford and Brian Johnson to start the final game of the series on Saturday.

"It'll be pretty tough, but they're a good team, we're a good team," Crawford said. "Hopefully we can pick things up and beat them."

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