Strong Pitching Helps Florida Against MSU

The offensive struggles stole the headlines and the eyes of most onlookers for Florida's series against Mississippi State, and for good reason. However, those issues overshadowed how good the Gators were on the mound this weekend. The Florida pitching staff has allowed more than three runs in just one of its last 11 games and was the reason the Gators won the weekend series with the Bulldogs.

"There are a lot of positives to come out of this game," Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan said after the game. "To the casual fan, we only had three hits again and the offense isn't going, but I look at it differently.

"We won two out of three against a really good Mississippi State team without Brian Johnson pitching on the weekend and without our best guys swinging the bat as well as we know they're going to at some point."

The best news came from closer Austin Maddox. He missed exactly two weeks with tendonitis and made his presence felt in a big way for the Gators on Sunday. He tossed 2.1 perfect innings and struck out two hitters.

The junior's velocity was back to where it usually is in the mid 90s, and he was locating his changeup and slider like he was before the injury.

"He threw 2.1 with 17 pitches," O'Sullivan said. "That's unheard of. His arm looked fresh. He attacked and his breaking ball was sharp."

Last weekend at Kentucky, O'Sullivan was forced to go without Maddox and pushed Steven Rodriguez into the bullpen. Rodriguez has been dominant in recent weeks and continued to be on Sunday with two scoreless innings, but adding Maddox to the mix gives the Gators more depth and the ability to play matchups earlier in games.

Maddox and Rodriguez both have the ability to go deep in games and can save other arms.

"You can see how our team changes having him," O'Sullivan said. "Not having him for the last couple weeks hasn't been easy, but Steven Rodriguez stepped into that closer role really, really well."

The version of Maddox on the mound Sunday was the same one that dominated the beginning of the season.

"I've been battling through some tendonitis and doing my treatment," said Maddox, who also celebrated his birthday on Sunday. "It felt good to get back on the mound again. I feel fully healthy. I felt good today and was locating all my stuff. I had my (velocity) back."

With the offense's inability to put runs on the board, the bullpen has been even more important for Florida.

In 12.2 innings this weekend, the Florida bullpen allowed five hits, eight walks and no runs while striking out 15 hitters.

"They're doing great and they've been great," Florida catcher Mike Zunino said. "There's only so much you can say good about them because that's all they've been doing. They come in tough situations and get outs. Not much phases them. They're just nails. Every time we went to them, they stepped up. We're lucky to have a bullpen like that.

"When they could just keep it a tight game in a one-run game, it's just huge. It gives hitters a little bit of confidence. It gives us the confidence knowing we can take our time and try to square some balls up so they can keep us right there."

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