What we learned: Miami series

The Gators won their 19th game in the last 24 against the Hurricanes over the weekend, clinching the early season series.

Florida (6-1) didn’t play its best baseball against Miami but still managed to win the series, taking the Friday game on a walk-off single by Buddy Reed and the Sunday game behind a strong pitching effort. Here are some positives and negatives that stood out from the series.

THE GOOD:

Bullpen: When Logan Shore lasted nine pitches on Friday, Bobby Poyner came off the bench and threw 5.1 innings, allowing just two runs and striking out seven hitters. Aaron Rhodes had a rough day, allowing a three-run homer to Zack Collins and four total runs, out of the bullpen. Taking Rhodes’ day out of it, the Florida bullpen totaled only three runs allowed in 16 innings over the weekend.

The bullpen was especially sharp on Sunday. After five hitless innings from starter Dane Dunning, the Gators allowed just three singles over the final four innings to clinch the series. Florida closer Taylor Lewis was especially sharp, recording the final four outs on 10 pitches. Lewis has allowed just two singles in 4.2 scoreless innings of work this year. This will not be the last time the bullpen is a big plus for Florida. This pitching staff is one of the deepest in the country.

Buddy Reed: After a 1-14 weekend at the plate to start the year against Rhode Island, Reed was the best hitter for Florida this weekend. He hit .417 (5-12) against Miami and added another three-hit game on Wednesday at USF, and he was honored by the league by being named co-SEC Player of the Week. The highlight of the weekend was his walk-off single against Miami on Friday night.

His average was .071 after the first weekend, but he has already pushed it up to .281. Add in his defense in center field and his strong arm from the outfield, and the sophomore is starting to show the breakout potential that people close to the program raved about during the offseason.

Defense: The Gators just made two errors in 27 innings this weekend. The first one came late in Saturday’s win for Miami with the game already in hand. The second came on Sunday when first baseman A.J. Puk couldn’t cleanly field a ground ball and toss it to the pitcher covering. Besides that, the Florida defense was perfect.

Richie Martin made a few impressive plays at shortstop on the run. Josh Tobias made important plays Friday night as a defensive replacement. Freshman Christian Hicks got the start at third base on Sunday and made multiple tough plays early in the game.

Quality experience: Kevin O’Sullivan said this after the game, and it’s absolutely true. The Gators aren’t able to replicate this weekend’s experiences in practices. It’s even tougher because of the young players. Florida started five freshmen in the lineup on Sunday, and they all contributed in different ways to the win.

These early season series against elite competition can help teams get a barometer for where they are, and even though the Gators didn’t play their best, they still saw Miami’s best team in years and came away with the series win.

Crowd: Florida announced attendance of 6,081 on Saturday, the second most in school history. The total attendance was 14,476 for the weekend, the fourth highest in McKethan Stadium history for a three-game series. Even with temperatures in the 30s on Friday night, there were 3,661 in attendance.

THE BAD:

Starting pitching: Bad might be a little strong of a term for this group. Shore’s injury kept him from having a long start on Friday, lasting only night pitches when his hip flexor tightened up. O’Sullivan insisted that it wasn’t serious and he will be fine. Saturday start A.J. Puk gave up three runs in 2.1 innings before getting pulled. The sophomore allowed four hits, two walks and hit one batter. He cruised through his first five hitters before losing his command and allowing seven hitters to reach base of the final nine he faced before getting pulled.

It looked like more of the same when Dane Dunning started on Sunday. He had no trouble with the first five hitters before losing his command. He allowed one run in the second inning but got his command back and ended the outing with five no-hit innings.

This group wasn’t terrible, especially considering it’s hardly Shore’s fault he got hurt. It does need to get better. The Gators know what they’re getting out of Shore when he’s healthy and on the mound, but the questions come in the Saturday and Sunday roles. Dunning showed signs and closed strong, sitting 91-94 mph with an impressive offspeed stuff that kept the Hurricanes off balance.

Puk is the question mark. He’s a lanky 6-7 left-hander that can hit the mid 90s with his fastball, but he has to throw consistent strikes. If he can’t prove to do that, O’Sullivan has plenty of veteran options that can step into the rotation and make it work. It’s tough to balance, however, because the upside of Puk is very high.

Hitting: Florida scored just eight runs in three games against a Miami team whose weakness is supposed to be pitching. The Gators got big hits when they needed them, including Reed’s walk-off single Friday and Harrison Bader’s go-ahead homer on Sunday, but they didn’t hit well for most of the weekend. Florida hit .220 (20-91) in the three games.

The offense is better than it showed over the weekend. It’s still without cleanup hitter Pete Alonso, who is expected to miss another 4-6 weeks, and he will provide a big boost. The current hitters are also better than they showed this weekend and should improve throughout the year, especially as the younger players get more experience.


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