Freshmen providing the pitching

The freshman class came to Gainesville as the top-ranked recruiting class in the country, and Florida knew it needed to get impacts from freshmen on the mound and at the plate. So far, Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan has found two freshmen starting pitchers that have earned more starts going forward.

The two freshmen are doing it in different ways. For right-hander Logan Shore, it's mostly 89-92 mph with two off-speed pitches for strikes. He locates -- only giving up two walks in 20 innings -- and stays out of the heart of the plate.

For left-hander A.J. Puk, it's 92-95 mph with a curveball that gives left-handed hitters fits. The Iowa native is still learning how to pitch but has first-round upside in his 6-7 frame.

Both freshmen have been impressive, but it's Shore that has been the best pitcher on the team so far. In 20 innings, the right-hander has given up 13 hits and two walks with only one earned run, posting an ERA of 0.45. Shore has also added 16 strikeouts.

"I couldn't have pictured it going any better than this so far," Shore said.

Kevin O'Sullivan kept Shore out of the weekend rotation to open the season but admitted soon after that the freshman had a strong argument to be in it. It only took until the third weekend of the season before it happened.

"He's focused. He knows hitters," O'Sullivan said about Shore. "He comes to the ballpark and knows the opposing team's lineup. You don't have to hold his hand. He watches (the opponent's batting practice). He asks intelligent questions. He's got his thoughts together before he goes to the mound. A lot of other guys, they don't. They just grab the ball, signs get thrown down, they throw what's called and there's no thought process behind it.

"He thinks things through. It's amazing a kid from Coon Rapids, Minn., is so advanced baseball-wise, but he had a good mind for this game. He's very mature, focused. The things that some of the other guys think are funny and they giggle and everything else, he's a little more mature than some of the other ones."

The perceived weakness of the Florida pitching staff heading into the season was a lack of an ace, but Shore has filled that gap in the early weeks of the year. He admitted to having more nerves than usual when he officially took over the Friday night role against Connecticut, but it didn't show once he started to pitch.

"It was pretty exciting," Shore said. "I try to treat it like every start, but I knew it wasn't like every other start. I just try to keep it under control, keep the adrenaline under control and not try to do too much."

His teammates have seen it, too.

"Logan Shore threw the ball unbelievable again," junior second baseman Casey Turgeon said on Friday night. "All the freshmen have something to prove, but he's the one that stepped up and said, ‘listen, I'll take that job.' He has done a great job with it and was fantastic tonight."

The numbers aren't as eye-popping from Puk, but it's impossible to miss the potential while watching him pitch. His 92-95 mph looks effortless, which is rare from his long arms and 6-7 frame. Those attributes give Puk the elite upside, but they're also the reason he's still raw on the mound.

There's a lot that has to go right and stay in order for Puk's delivery to be crisp. When it's on line, he cruises. Then he gets sloppy and admits to losing focus, and the walks and hits follow.

"It's just being more staying focused," Puk said. "You can see how some innings it's really quick and I'm in the zone, then I lose focus or something. I just need to get more consistent out there."

For the season, Puk has allowed 12 hits and four walks while striking out 15 hitters in 12 innings. His 3.75 ERA is middle of the pack on a loaded Florida pitching staff, but the upside will continue earning him innings.

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