Crawford developing the changeup

Jonathon Crawford broke out last season with two pitches. His mid-to-upper 90s fastball blew away hitters while his slider was one of the best in the Southeastern Conference. He sprinkled in a changeup, but those two pitches were the main ones that helped him to a 6-2 record with a 3.13 ERA. He spent his offseason working on the changeup to give him a trusted three-pitch mix this year.

Even in the no-hitter Jonathon Crawford threw last season in the first game of the Gainesville Regional against Bethune-Cookman, he threw one changeup. The dominance of last season happened with mostly two pitches.

The goal is to change that this year.

Crawford threw 77.2 innings last season and then jumped immediately into playing for Team USA. Because of that, he took most of the fall off to rest his arm. When he was throwing, he was working on the changeup.

"I wanted to work with my changeup and make that a factor," Crawford said. "That's really what I worked on this offseason. I'm just throwing it more often. It's not someone helping me with it. It's just about throwing it more."

He started the 2012 season as a reliever and likely the midweek starter for the Gators. When Karsten Whitson got injured early in the year, Crawford stepped into the weekend rotation and was dominant throughout the year.

He got by throwing his slider to right-handers and left-handers, but the addition of a changeup should be a good neutralizer against left-handers this year.

"That's one of the pitches I don't think he threw as much last year," Florida left-hander Corey Stump said. "It has come along a lot. It's going to impact him a lot. He got away with throwing his slider to righties and lefties because it's a really good pitch, but developing that third pitch is a big deal. It'll up his stock in the draft and help him have a good year this year."

Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan has always been a fan of the changeup. It's a pitch he tries to add into the repertoire of each pitcher on his staff. He worked with Brian Johnson on the pitch before his freshman year, and it's a pitch that helped him become a first-round draft pick.

"He threw it the other day a lot, and it looked really, really good," O'Sullivan said. "He probably threw it 10-12 times and about 80-85% strikes with it. That's probably the biggest separator from last year to this year. He has always had the great fastball and breaking ball, but the changeup, the way it has evolved has taken him to another level."

Crawford spent most of his time as the third starter behind Johnson and Hudson Randall. He's not a vocal player on the team, and that includes this season after all the Gators lost in the draft. In his silence last year, he watched what was going on around him. He watched how Johnson and Randall worked and prepared for their starts each week.

Now the Friday night starter for the Gators this season, Crawford is prepared to take on the role.

"I learned a lot from Huddy," Crawford said. "He was a great Friday night guy. He didn't necessarily have the great stuff as a Friday night guy would have, but he showed no emotions."

Whitson will take the role as the Saturday starter and the No. 2 starting pitcher on the Florida roster. After his injury during the 2012 season, the Gators took it slow with him in the offseason to prepare him for this year.

"He's doing fine," O'Sullivan said. "We've been careful trying to build up his arm strength as much as possible. It's a long season."

The third starter job is still up for grabs. O'Sullivan said he expects to have a better idea of who could win the job later this week, specifically when scrimmages end on Sunday. It will be the third and fourth time that pitchers will be on the mound and just a week before the first time the third starter will be needed this year.

There are pitchers of all experiences on the team fighting for the job, but O'Sullivan is still waiting for a pitcher to emerge.

"There is talent, but no one has separated themselves yet," O'Sullivan said. "We're kind of waiting for a few guys to separate themselves."

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