Lineup change sparked Florida offense

Kevin O'Sullivan wanted to find a way to jumpstart his lineup. The Gators scuffled with the bat through the first 24 games of the season with Richie Martin leading off and Casey Turgeon hitting second. O'Sullivan flipped the two in the order after the Gators lost a weekend series at Texas A&M, and the change has produced more offense for Florida.

In the first 24 games of the season with Riche Martin leading off and Casey Turgeon hitting second, the Florida offense averaged 4.1 per game. Since the change was made before the Gators faced Florida State in Jacksonville, the Florida offense has averaged 5.4 runs.

There are other factors that have contributed to the improvement. Harrison Bader has produced more after taking some time to get comfortable after his return from a suspension. The freshmen are also improving as the season goes on.

But O'Sullivan liked the way his lineup looked after making the change, and the results have proven it to work.

"Casey likes to swing the bat," O'Sullivan said. "Richie does a lot of things in the two hole. He can drag and push (bunt). It's nice to have a guy (Turgeon) who gets up there and swings the bat. With Richie's skillset, he does a really good job in the two hole."

The coaches toyed with the top of the lineup through the 2013 season. When the Gators faced a left-handed pitcher, the right-handed Martin led off. When it was a right-hander on the mound, Turgeon led off.

They stuck with the rotation, but O'Sullivan didn't like it. He wants the players to have an understanding of their role and what's expected from them in the lineup. This season has provided that.

"Those two guys knowing their role and knowing where they're going to hit in the lineup every day has relaxed them a little bit," O'Sullivan said. "They have a better idea of what to expect when they come to the ballpark.

"It's taken us a while to identify who we are offensively and what they need to do to be successful. I think they've figured things out there."

It has helped the two feel comfortable in the lineup and be able to produce.

"It's a different look," Turgeon said. "He put us like that a while ago, and ever since that, we've been winning. We were going through a funk there, but now we're playing well."

The Florida offense will need to continue its hot streak against Southeastern Conference opponents this weekend as a talented and deep Vanderbilt pitching staff comes to town. The series will be from Thursday-Saturday because it will be televised on ESPNU Thursday night.

The Commodores come to Gainesville with the third lowest ERA (2.38) in the conference while allowing a lead best .195 batting average against. They've also struck out 439 hitters -- 41 more than second place Mississippi State. It's a pitching staff loaded with power arms that pound the strike zone.

"Vanderbilt has a very good team with a very good pitching staff and an athletic lineup," O'Sullivan said. "It's going to be another tough weekend for us."

Freshman Logan Shore will start on Thursday for the Gators against Vanderbilt right-hander Tyler Beede. Friday's matchup will send Vanderbilt right-hander Carson Fulmer against a Florida pitched to be announced. The series finale will see Florida right-hander Karsten Whitson against Vanderbilt right-hander Tyler Ferguson.

The Gators head into the weekend with a three-game lead in the SEC over Ole Miss. The Rebels host Georgia this weekend. With only six conference games remaining, Florida has a chance to stay at the top of the league and potentially even clinch a share of the conference title by sweeping Vanderbilt.

Florida is also in the hunt for one of the top eight national seeds in the NCAA Tournament.

With those goals still ahead of them, O'Sullivan has had open conversations with the players about what can happen in the next few weeks. He doesn't want his young team to hear about it from sources outside the locker room, so they address all the possibilities as a group.

"We talk about it," O'Sullivan said. "The players now are more aware than in years past. They know what's in front of them. We talk about it. There's no sense in not talking about it. It's an exciting time of the year. The fact of the matter is that a lot of the goals we set out in front of us before the season started are in front of us. They know what's at stake here."


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