Gators rich in pitching, still need answers

The statistics, rankings and record all look good for Florida after 22 games this season, but the Gators’ pitching staff still has question marks.

That might seem crazy to say. The Florida pitching staff has a 2.60 ERA and a .206 batting average against.

The starting rotation isn’t perfect at this point in the year, but the big concern for Florida comes in the middle innings. The Gators came into the season with a pitching staff lauded as one of the deepest in the country by multiple national college baseball writers.

The talent is still there, but the production hasn’t matched that claim at this point in the year.

The starting rotation of Dane Dunning, A.J. Puk and Logan Shore has a 2.32 ERA, allowing only 19 earned runs in 73.2 innings. Closer Taylor Lewis has five saves and has given up two earned runs in 13 innings this year. That group of four has a 2.18 ERA.

The rest of the Florida pitching staff has a 2.94 ERA, allowing 85 hits in 110.1 innings pitched. Those numbers aren’t terrible by any stretch of the imagination, but the Gators haven’t found consistent pitchers that can get the ball from the starting pitchers to Lewis late in the game.

That was even more evident on Tuesday against Florida State. The Florida pitching staff worked deep counts and walked six hitters while allowing six earned runs and nine hits to a Florida State team that came in with a .271 batting average and had no regular hitting over .300. It was easy to understand Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan’s frustrations after the game.

“We were sloppy on the mound,” O’Sullivan said. “That was not one of our best efforts. We have a lot of work to do. We’ve got to find the right roles for our pitchers. We’ve got to do a better job pitching ahead in the count. It’s my responsibility to sift through this and figure out who can do what.”

The frustration comes with arms that have been counted on in the past. Last season, Kirby Snead led the Gators in appearances and was third in ERA. This year, the left-hander has allowed seven hits and three walks in 5.2 innings. When O’Sullivan gone to him to get a left-hander out, twice he has walked the hitter instead.

Eric Hanhold battled a hip injury early in the season but has now returned. He started the game on Tuesday, but with six hits and four walks in 6.1 innings, the junior has struggled to be consistent. Despite throwing 2.2 solid innings on Tuesday in his best outing of the year, even Aaron Rhodes (3.97 ERA, 11.1 IP, 6 H, 5 BB) has struggled to be a bridge from the starter to closer this year.

The middle relief will be an important part of this weekend’s series at Ole Miss, Florida’s first weekend road test. The Gators have the arm to be one of the best pitching staffs in the country, and it might sound crazy to say they aren’t since they’re 22nd in the country in ERA, but the group can actually get a lot better.

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