What we learned: Alabama series

The Gators won the series with Alabama and would’ve swept it without a bullpen blowup in the first game.

GOOD:

SHORE BOUNCES BACK: After two subpar starts, the last two weeks haven’t been much fun for Logan Shore. He dominated while growing up playing baseball in Minnesota and did the same thing last season, earning SEC Freshman of the Year honors. Outside of a handful of starts growing up, these last two weeks have been the biggest struggle Shore has ever had on a baseball field.

Different pitchers can handle that in different ways. For Shore, it just took two weeks and he looked like his All-American self on Friday, especially as the game went on. There was still some hard contact early in the game against a free-swinging Alabama team, but the sophomore’s off-speed pitches were consistently thrown for strikes and he dominated late. The book around the league, as evidenced by approaches from Tennessee and Ole Miss, was to ignore the off-speed stuff and hammer the fastball. When Shore can command his curveball and changeup, that approach doesn’t work.

More than anything, Friday brought that confidence back for Shore. You could sense the feeling of relief for him talking to the media after the game Friday.

POSITION QUESTIONS ON THE HORIZON: When Pete Alonso (broken foot) returns against Florida State on Tuesday or at Missouri on Friday, Kevin O’Sullivan is going to have some tough decisions to make. The person most likely to be replaced on paper is Ryan Larson, but Florida’s nine-hole hitter is currently hitting .359 with a .469 on-base percentage.

With Alonso back, it makes sense to play him in right field and keep Jeremy Vasquez at first, which seems to be his best position defensively. Alonso will be the best power bat on the team and likely hit in the cleanup spot in the order.

It sounds like a problem, but I put it under the good parts of the weekend because it truly is a problem O’Sullivan will take. At worst, Larson will become a late-inning defensive replacement, going into right field while Alonso comes in to play first base. Or the coaches can leave it as is in late-game situations. There are a lot of possibilities with Alonso rejoining the team in the coming days, and that’s good news for Florida to find the right group.

BAD:

BULLPEN ROLES: The inconsistency of the bullpen continues to be the most shocking part of this season. Last week at Ole Miss, the bullpen was great and gave Florida a chance to win the series despite suspect starting pitching. This weekend, the starting pitching was good and the bullpen’s blowup on Friday kept Florida from a sweep.

It should be noted that the Gators were without Bobby Poyner because of a hamstring injury. Kevin O’Sullivan didn’t think it was serious but wanted to hold his senior this early in the year. O’Sullivan also admitted it was a little different not to have Poyner to stabilize things at the backend of the bullpen, but the hope is that the less experienced players can use their time on the mound as a learning block.

There are a lot of arms out of the bullpen that look like they’ve regressed this season. After the third best ERA on the team last year, left-hander Kirby Snead hasn’t been effective this year. Eric Hanhold has been up to 93-94 mph and will be a high draft pick this summer, but his ups and downs have been clear, too.

The truth is, O’Sullivan is one of the best in the country at managing and developing a pitching staff. This group has plenty of talent and should figure itself out in time. But their continued issues this season have been shocking.


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