Bullpen blows Whitson's strong start

One pitch ruined the best outing of the season for Florida right-hander Karsten Whitson. Reliever Ryan Harris hit back-to-back Jacksonville batters with one out in the seventh inning before nine-hole hitter Dylan Dillard launched a three-run home run that proved to be the difference. The Gators ended their six-game winning streak with a 3-1 loss to Jacksonville.

Karsten Whitson was in Florida's weekend rotation for the first four weeks, but he struggled in all four starts. After missing the 2013 season with a shoulder injury, his fastball velocity was 90-91 mph in the first few outings.

On Tuesday against Jacksonville, Whitson's velocity was up to the 92-93 mph range. Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan was optimistic with the way his right-hander was throwing in bullpens and wanted a strong start against the Dolphins.

Whitson delivered.

The redshirt junior went five shutout innings, allowing three hits and one walk while striking out a season high five batters.

"It has been a tough road for him," Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan said. "He comes out tonight and throws as good as he has thrown in a while. I was hoping our guys would rally around him and be a bit more motivated at the plate and we just weren't.

"Karsten threw really good tonight. He did everything that I hoped for. "

The sloppy outing for Ryan Harris cost Florida the game and its six-game winning streak. He hit back-to-back batters with one out in the seventh inning, but a sacrifice bunt for the second out gave the junior a chance to get out of it. However, nine-hole hitter Dylan Dillard, who struck out in his previous two at-bats, drilled a fastballs into the left field bleachers to give Jacksonville a 3-1 lead.

"He hits the six-hole hitter, then hits the seven-hole hitter, then falls behind 1-0 and a guy runs into one. It's as simple as that," O'Sullivan said. "You've got to locate, especially playing in a one-run game. The margin of error is very small. You can't give up freebies. They capitalized."

The Florida bats were silent. The Gators had four hits, two coming from Zack Powers, and got on the board once with a solo homer by Powers in the second inning.

Jacksonville starting pitcher Justin Russell, normally the club's Sunday starter until rainouts allows him to pitch on Tuesday, kept the Florida hitters down. Russell went seven innings and gave up three hits and one run while recording just one strikeout. When his day was through, Jacksonville turned to its ace Alex McRae for the final two innings to finish off the upset win.

"Our at-bats in the first inning were not good," O'Sullivan said. "We didn't make many adjustments. We woke up there and had some good at-bats, but we've got to do a better job."

Even with Florida's recent run of success, Tuesday's frustration continued to build after losing to Florida Atlantic three weeks ago. The Gators spent Florida State in three midweek games but haven't played as well against smaller teams from across the state.

"We've explained to these guys that when these instate teams come in, they want to beat us," O'Sullivan said. "You can't bring anything other than your A game. You've got to be ready to play. Unfortunately tonight, we weren't ready to play from the beginning.

"It's frustrating. Let's face it. You've got to be ready to play."

Florida gets back in action on Wednesday against Florida A&M at 7 p.m.


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