Bullpen struggles in series opener

With all the problems in the first five games of the season for No. 15 Florida, the bullpen wasn't one. That changed on Friday night. All eight of Florida Gulf Coast's runs and all nine of its hits came with a member of the bullpen on the mound. The one consistent part of the Florida team through the first five games came unraveled as the Eagles won 8-2 in the first game of the series.

"It wasn't very good, obviously. We've got to develop some depth in our bullpen and see what they can do. It's just as simple as that.

The bullpen threw the final 3.2 innings, allowing nine hits, six runs (all earned), one walk and striking out two hitters. It was easily the unit's worst performance of the season.

That's part of the youth of the Florida roster. In the opening weekend against Duke, it was the starting pitching that was a problem for the Gators. In Wednesday's loss to Georgia Southern, the problem was on defense. On Friday, the bullpen took its turn as the issue.

"Everyone has their days," Florida right fielder Justin Shafer said. "It's not a big deal. Our bullpen has done great all year. We're not going to go into that with them having one day. It happens."

The bullpen struggles overshadowed a dominant outing by right-hander Jonathon Crawford. The junior ace went 5.1 no-hit innings, allowing two walks and hitting two batters while striking out four. He was pulled after 79 pitches because of his pitch count early in the season. O'Sullivan was targeting 75-80 pitches during his second outing of the season.

"He was really good," O'Sullivan said. "When you go 5.1 and don't give up any hits, you're doing something right. He pitched much better than he did the first weekend. It's something to build off for next Friday."

Crawford's control also started to fade in the sixth inning of work. Crawford hit Florida Gulf Coast shortstop Alex Diaz with a pitch to start the inning. After falling behind in a 3-1 count and still getting a pop out, Crawford walked catcher Matt Reeves. This forced O'Sullivan's hand and brought in junior left-hander Daniel Gibson.

After getting Eagles left fielder Sean Dwyer to pop out, Gibson left a fastball over the heart of the plate to first baseman Brett Beismar, who hit it into the pine trees behind the left field bleachers to give Florida Gulf Coast a 3-1 lead.

"Sometimes it comes down to one play and the momentum changes," O'Sullivan said. "We just missed our spot, and he took advantage of it."

Eagles right-hander Ricky Knapp held the Florida offense at bay. The senior shut down the Gators for two runs — on a two-run homer from Mike Zunino — in seven innings last season.

He was even better on Friday.

Knapp threw a complete game on 92 pitches against the Gators to start the series, the first time Florida has had a complete game thrown against it since Arkansas right-hander D.J. Baxendale did it in Fayetteville on May 5, 2011. The Gators knew he was going to throw strikes, so they were aggressive early in the count.

"He's a good pitcher," Shafer said. "He always throws strikes. We knew he was going to pound the zone, so we came in trying to be aggressive. He got us tonight. He throws a lot like our pitchers do. He's taught to three two of the first three pitches for strikes. We knew he was going to try to get ahead, so we were going to try to swing at one of the first two pitches."

Zack Powers and Shafer combined to go 4-6 at the plate. The rest of the lineup went 2-24, with the two hits coming on weakly hit infield ground balls by Harrison Bader and Richie Martin.

No matter how dominant Knapp was, the Florida hitters continued to swing early in the count. O'Sullivan didn't want his hitters to be patient and potentially get into pitcher's counts.

"He throws strikes," O'Sullivan said. "He doesn't walk anybody. There's no sense in getting deep in the count. He throws three pitches for strikes at any time. If you sit back and wait, it doesn't do you any good."

The Gators will try to salvage the series on Saturday at 4 p.m. when freshman right-hander Tucker Simpson takes the mound against the Eagles.


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