Gators see SEC opener as clean slate

It was just a month ago the Gators kicked off their first contest of the year — their first blemish. With 18 games under their belt including the scar of 10 losses, UF has the chance to start fresh. Florida begins SEC play Friday with a home series against Kentucky. While the Gators are bearing the weight of an 8-10 record, it's an unscathed SEC record that's propelling them into the weekend.

"We're 0-0," sophomore second baseman Casey Turgeon said. "It doesn't really matter what our record is going into this game."

For the 7:30 p.m. series opener, coach Kevin O'Sullivan named freshman right-hander Jay Carmichael (2-1, 2.00) as the orange and blue's first pitcher to command the mound. The Cape Coral native will be the first Florida freshman to nab a start in a conference series opener since Hudson Randall versus Alabama in 2010.

Usual Friday starter Jonathon Crawford (0-2, 4.22) will take the place of freshman right-hander Tucker Simpson (who pitched 1.1 innings of relief on Tuesday) for the 12 p.m. start Saturday. Crawford praised Carmichael's work from the bullpen so far this season.

"He's come in and minimized the damages as best as possible," Crawford said.

Carmichael has appeared on the hill nine times this season for the Gators with a total of 18 innings pitched allowing 10 hits and registering 13 strikeouts.

Fellow freshman Eric Hanhold (0-1, 6.39) continues to secure his spot as the Sunday starter.

Florida's offense will have to ensure three left-handed starters this weekend in Kentucky's A.J. Reed (2-1, 3.22), Jerad Grundy (3-1, 1.35) and Corey Littrell (2-0, 3.42).

O'Sullivan said Reed reminds him of former Gator LHP Brian Johnson, while Grundy boasts the experience of a senior pitcher. He added Littrell is "as good as anyone in our league" and mentioned the talent of closer and right-hander Trevor Gott (2-0, 0.00).

"It's a complete team," O'Sullvian said. "They're a very good team. Obviously, we'll have our hands full this weekend."

Florida's head coach discussed the team's current struggles at the plate, stressing the Gators have to be more aggressive and bat with authority.

"We've been getting good pitches to hit, we've just been missing them," he said. "It's hard to hit with two strikes and I think we've been hitting with two strikes an awful lot. Nobody can hit with two strikes — I don't care who you are. We have to do a little bit more damage early in the count."

Though it has only been a month since Florida's regular season first unraveled, injuries have already plagued the lineup on both sides of the plate. The announcement of junior RHP Karsten Whitson's shoulder injury had him sidelined before the season even began; however O'Sullivan revealed after Tuesday's loss to FSU that fellow junior Keenan Kish would also be out for the year due to "hip issues."

The infield has also had its fair share of bumps including third baseman Zack Powers' bone bruise, removing him from last weekend's lineup and freshman shortstop Richie Martin's broken pointer finger stemming from the Miami series. Powers returned to play on Tuesday, but Martin is expected to still be out for the next couple of weeks, O'Sullivan said. Senior Cody Dent is currently holding down his position at short.

Despite the bumps and bruises Florida's lineup has undergone throughout the season's initial 18 games, the Gators said they're looking ahead at a fresh stab at their record in the SEC.

"What's done is done," Turgeon said. "We're going to come out with clear heads and we're going to play some Gator Baseball."

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