Unique pitching staff producing results

Florida's best teams under Kevin O'Sullivan didn't have many questions about roles on the pitching staff. That's why this season has been so different. Since the third weekend of the season, the only known role on the Florida staff has been Logan Shore pitching as the ace. After that, O'Sullivan has been piecing the pitching staff together to make it work.

Logan Shore, TBA, TBA.

It doesn't seem like the starting rotation for the No. 2 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. It's also a major reason Kevin O'Sullivan was named SEC Coach of the Year, masterfully using the large number of Florida pitchers in different situations to get the best out of them.

The pitching staff is a product of the way O'Sullivan recruits. Instead of backing away from talking about the other pitchers on the staff and in the recruiting class, he talks to prospective recruits about the depth. He sells the idea of using many arms to keep the other fresh, giving pitchers a better chance to stay healthy throughout college.

Think back to Florida's 2011 team that played in the national championship series. There weren't many questions about the weekend rotation or the bullpen. The Gators used a rotation anchored by Hudson Randall, Brian Johnson and Karsten Whitson almost every weekend. When they needed to go to the bullpen, it started with Greg Larson in the seventh inning, Paco Rodriguez in the eighth inning and Austin Maddox to close it out in the ninth inning.

"Would it be easier to have like we did in '11 with Hudson Randall, Brian Johnson and Karsten Whitson? Yeah," O'Sullivan said with a grin. "Then in the seventh, you go to Greg Larson, Paco Rodriguez and Austin Maddox. We don't have a Paco. But we do have a lot of good pitchers, a lot of talented pitchers."

There isn't a routine way for O'Sullivan to manage games this year. He does it on feel, gut instincts and trying to create the best matchups for his team. That could include using a pitcher in the fourth inning of one game, only to see him close out a win the next day.

The Gators lead the SEC with 20 saves, but eight different pitchers have recorded them.

Freshman Logan Shore has been the ace, and he has thrown 90.2 innings. No other Florida pitcher has thrown over 55 innings. Part of that low number is because of the team's youth. Most of the freshmen aren't ready to handle big innings. They can look good for a few innings before slowing down, struggling to show the consistency of a veteran pitcher or Shore, who has been the outlier of the first-year pitchers.

The talent in the freshman class is undeniable, even after Shore. Shaun Anderson (0-2, 5.60 ERA, 17.2 IP), Dane Dunning (1-1, 5.14 ERA, 21 IP), A.J. Puk (5-2, 3.35 ERA, 40.1 IP) and Kirby Snead (3-0, 1.79 ERA, 40.1 IP) have all been dominant at times and join Shore to create the top group of freshman pitchers in the country.

O'Sullivan knows the future of his program is in good hands with the freshmen, but the inconsistency from all of them other than Shore has turned into difficult and short outings at times.

"If you look at our staff, we have a lot of youth," O'Sullivan said. "To do what Logan is doing and go out there and go 6, 7, 8 innings. That's hard to do at a young age. We have a bunch of guys that next year, when you look up, they'll be that type of guy like Logan is this year. But they're just not quite ready. They're 2, 3, 4 inning guys right now.

"When you look next year at a guy like Puk, Morales, Dunning, Anderson and some of these young guys … it's going to be pretty good. They're just young. The strength of our staff is we have talent, but the other side of it is we are youthful."

Whitson, the lone holdover from those heavily counted on as a part of the 2011 pitching staff, knew this year would be different. After opening the season with a rotation of Bobby Poyner, Brett Morales and Whitson, Poyner is the only one still counted on for high-leverage innings.

Switching the rotation almost weekly and using pitchers in the different bullpen roles has been fun for those on the mound.

"It is different," Whitson said. "In the past, you had it set and knew what to expect. This year, it's up and down, trying different things. It has come down to the hot hand. It keeps you on your toes. You know Logan is going out there and giving you a good start, then you see how a game goes and go from there.

"You have to be mentally prepared to do whatever you can. It's not a bad thing. It's actually pretty fun."

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