Kan Li / Scout

What We’ve Learned: #1 Gators Baseball so far

In what we hope will be a weekly series moving forward, a good friend of Fightin’ Gators, Mark McLeod will join us to discuss the State of the Union with regard to Florida Baseball. We will follow up the big weekend SEC series this spring and summer with Mark’s thoughts on the changes in the number one team in the country.

First, a little bit about Mark McLeod, our guest expert on Florida Baseball. I have known and worked with Mark off and on since 2004. When the Gators are playing on the diamond, Mark is almost always there. He is as good a baseball analyst as you will find in the gator community and has a great rapport with the coaches and players on the baseball team.

Mark McLeod has covered Florida baseball (and football) since 1996. He is a co-host on “Sports Time!’ heard weekday afternoons from 4-6pm on Florida Sports Talk/NBC Sports- FM 100.1, AM 900, & AM 1230 (Gainesville/Ocala). Listen at FloridaSportsTalk.fm. Follow Mark on twitter @McLeodLive.

Now on to Mark’s report…

The top-ranked University of Florida baseball team extended their winning streak to 11 games with series victories over North Florida and Harvard. The Gators took a pair of games from the Ospreys, including a road game in Jacksonville 6-2.

Florida (17-1) swept Harvard (2-5) by scores of 16-5, 9-2, and 3-1. UF reported attendance figures for the weekend at 11,364.

“I thought Harvard’s two starters were really, really good,” Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said after Saturday’s doubleheader. “”They’re SEC quality. It kind of took me back a little bit. They kept making pitch after pitch, he (game 3 starter Nick Gruener, a freshman RHP from Miami Palmetto) was up to 94 (fastball) and he was throwing his slider for strikes, and expanding the zone with two strikes and he had some deception to him.

“The first guy (junior RHP Sean Poppen) was outstanding too,” O’Sullivan added. “I think that he was up to 94-95 with a good sinker and he was throwing his slider for strikes. We talked about that before the day. I saw the video and they looked really good on video and them when I saw them in person, they looked even better.”

Sophomore catcher J.J. Schwarz led the Gators at the plate with a 5 for 10 (.500) performance. Freshman second baseman Deacon Liput went 6 for 13 (.462), while fellow freshman left fielder Nelson Maldonado (see below) had a solid weekend at the plate too.

Liput also moved up in the lineup this weekend, hitting in the #2 hole in Saturday’s doubleheader. It’s a move that I spoke with O’Sullivan about two weeks ago. He has a lot of confidence in Liput, who outside of his .403 average is second on the team with 12 walks. That speaks volumes about his presence.

Nick Horvath in for the injured Buddy Reed

Centerfielder Buddy Reed was benched on Saturday after a near-collision with Nelson Maldonado. Reed hit the ground hard and injured his shoulder. It appears that he will be day-to-day.

It provided an opportunity for Santa Fe College transfer Nick Horvath to get a couple of starts. The sophomore handyman went 2 of 3 hitting in the #9 hole in game one and 0 for 2 with an RBI in the finale.

“He’s our second best outfielder, defensively,” O’Sullivan said of Horvath. “He’s a really, really good defender. He gives you good at-bats too. He’s a valuable baseball player. I think that we talked before the season that he’s going to play in just about every game whether it be pitching-wise, or coming in late, defensively, or to have an at-bat. There’s just a lot of things that he can do.”

A.J. Puk coming on?

Tim Casey / UAA Communications
 O’Sullivan said that junior LHP A.J. Puk made some progress this weekend specifically citing an improved pace and aggressively cut the ball loose increasing his velocity. I wouldn’t push the panic button on Puk’s slow start. Lanky left-handers can take bit longer to get going and that has been the case with Puk in the past.

Puk threw 84 pitches in 5.1 innings of work. He allowed just one hit and one earned run, while striking out three Crimson batters. The concern was the four walks Puk issued on the day. When he walked Ellis with one out in the 6th, O’Sullivan immediately went to the bullpen for freshman Brady Singer.

Maldonado Makes His Mark

 In the final game of the Miami series, O’Sullivan sat junior left fielder Ryan Larson and started freshman Nelson Maldonado. Maldonado didn’t look comfortable at the plate in those early AB’s.   

Sully alternated the pair over the next seven games. I had watched Maldonado rip a home run in a preseason scrimmage, watched in batting practice, and spoken to others who saw him too. There is a lot to like about him. A week ago, I asked Sully about him and he talked about the fact that he can hit and likes his power. 

While the statistical results were not there, you could see Maldonado settling in throughout the week. One positive was that he had only struck out twice in 26 AB’s. If he puts the ball in play eventually he will break through.

Despite hitting just .077, O’Sullivan started Maldonado all three games in the Harvard series and the freshman broke though.

Maldonado went 4 for 11 (.364) with two-run double to right-center that led Florida to a 3-1 win over Harvard on Saturday night. He ripped a three-run blast on Saturday afternoon in game one of the doubleheader to help lead the Gators to a 9-2 advantage over the Crimson.  

Maldonado raised his average to .162. He still has a lot of work to do, but his confidence is growing and finding a few holes is sometimes all it takes.

By no means does this signal the end for Larson, who entered the Miami series hitting .333, but is currently mired in a 1 for 21 slump. Larson will continue to see playing time. He also gives the Gators an experienced pinch hitter when Maldonado is starting.

It’s a win-win for Florida, who appears on the way to adding some additional pop to the lineup.

Faedo, Moss lead hurlers

Tim Casey / UAA Communications
 Unlike the Miami series, it wouldn’t be difficult to name a starter and reliever of the week for Florida. For the first time this season junior RHP Logan Shore surrendered more than one earned run. Uncharacteristically, Shore surrendered five earned runs on Friday night, while picking up his fourth win of the season behind solid run support. Shore (4-0, 2.00) didn’t always get that run support a year ago, so he’ll take it.    

The starting pitcher of the week is sophomore Alex Faedo (4-0, 1.42), who stunned the Crimson with an impressive 8.1 inning outing, in which he surrendered just two hits and no runs. The shutout performance also included 13 strikeouts.

On the season, Faedo has fanned a team-high 36 strikeouts with only four walks in 25.1 innings. 

The importance of getting Scott Moss some much needed work where he proved dominating is significant. Moss is a southpaw and the Gators could definitely use another left-hander who can pitch out of the bullpen or start.

Florida has just five left-handers on the staff- junior starter A.J. Puk (0-1, 2.65), reliever Kirby Snead (1-0, 0.75), junior Nick Horvath (1-0, 3.38), freshman Hunter Bowling (0-0, 9.00), and Moss.  

On Saturday afternoon, Moss pitched two scoreless innings in relief of Shore, allowing just one hit and one walk. Moss fanned five of the eight batters he faced.

Stat Check

-Florida is the only school in the Southeastern Conference with two starters hitting at least .400. Liput and sophomore shortstop Dalton Guthrie are both hitting .403.

-Guthrie leads the SEC with 29 hits

-Junior first baseman Pete Alonso in 2nd in the conference with 155 chances.

-Opponents are hitting just .136 against Alex Faedo, which the best in the SEC

-Faedo and Vanderbilt sophomore RHP Jordan Sheffield lead the SEC with 36 K’s

-Florida pitchers lead the Southeastern Conference with 190 strikeouts.

-The Gators are the only school in the conference with two pitchers who have 4-0 records (Logan Shore & Alex Faedo)

-Florida junior LHP Kirby Snead is tied with Missouri sophomore RHP Cole Bartlett the SEC with 9 appearances

 Road Warriors

The Gators benefited from a bus trip that departed on February 24th and rolled back into Gainesville on March 1st. The trip included road games in Lakeland, Coral Gables, Orlando. The day trip to Jacksonville was last Tuesday night.

Florida head baseball coach Kevin O’Sullivan discussed the importance of early road trips to help the Gators go through their road trip routines. The routine may seem easy for you and I, but it’s very different when you’re preparing a large group of 17-22 year olds who aren’t accustomed to regimented travel schedules or having to spend several hours in a hotel waiting to play a game. The Gators finished with a road record of 4-1 during the non-conference schedule.

O’Sullivan and the Florida players said they felt the bus trip build chemistry. Another big plus is that fans and recruits have gotten the opportunity to see the Gators in person. It’s obvious why recruits need to see the Gators in person. Meanwhile, Florida baseball needs all the booster support and financial backing it can get as several SEC schools upgrade their baseball facilities.

In case you missed it…

Florida State’s Cole Sands, Cobi Johnson, and Jim Voyles combined to throw the first no-hitter by multiple FSU pitchers since March 27, 1968 when the Seminoles edged Toledo 3-2 last Wednesday night in Tallahassee.

3-2?

Yes. Toledo (2-13-1) actually led the game 2-1 when they scored two runs in the fourth inning after getting leadoff runners on via a hit by pitch and walk. The Rockets later scored on a Taylor Walls error.

The Seminoles won the game in the bottom of the ninth when Matt Henderson laid down a game-winning suicide-squeeze that scored Darren Miller, who had walked to leadoff the inning.  

Florida (17-1) will host Florida State (13-3) on Tuesday night at McKethan Stadium. The Gators are expected to start either Dane Dunning (1-0, 4.91) or Jackson Kowar (2-0, 2.57). First pitch is scheduled for 7p.m.

Please come out and join Bob Redman, Derek Tyson, Zach Albolverdi, and myself at the Gainesville House of Beer on April 15th at 7pm for the 2nd Florida Football Recruiting Roundtable. We will discuss the Gators spring practice wrap-up, spotlight the 2017 recruits with video and interviews, as well as take questions from the audience. There will be free food and we will have a great time! GHOB is located at 19 W. University Avenue. 


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