The top-ranked Florida baseball team has even more difficult task than a week ago when they swept through Missouri and an underrated Florida Atlantic team to extend their winning streak to 16 games.
The Gators make the long haul to Lexington to face the upstart Wildcats under the direction of former UF pitching coach Gary Henderson (in his 8th year) and former UF player and assistant coach Rick Eckstein, now a UK assistant.
The Wildcats non-conference schedule wasn’t especially challenging, but they definitely turned some heads with the series win in Athens last weekend. UK pounded out 27 hits and 25 runs in the final two games of the series to capture the series after dropping game one.
Last season, Kentucky took two of three against Florida in Gainesville. The ‘Cats have proven to be a tough out for Florida in recent years.
#1 Florida (22-1, 3-0) at #29 Kentucky (15-5, 2-1)
Jr. RHP Logan Shore (4-0, 2.00)
Jr. RHP Zack Brown (1-3, 5.14)
Jr. LHP A.J. Puk (0-1, 2.65)
Sr. RHP Destin Beggs (5-0, 1.77)
Soph. RHP Alex Faedo (4-0, 1.42)
Sr. RHP Kyle Cody (2-1, 6.95)
The Gators will face Kentucky junior Zack Brown on Friday night. Brown shut the Gators down in 2015 with a 7.0 shutout innings. He has a fastball that typically comes in between 90-93, but will reach 94 mph. He mixes it with a couple of breaking balls- a curveball and a change-up. Aaron Fitt of D-1 Baseball saw Brown last Friday night in his start against Georgia and said that Brown is much improved over the last time he saw him pitch.
Logan Shore labored a bit with in managing his pitch count during last Friday night’s 4-3 win over Missouri in 10 innings. Uncharacteristically, Shore needed 23 pitches to get out of the 1st inning, which was aided by a throwing error by shortstop Dalton Guthrie. In the fourth, Shore struck out the first two batters he faced, but followed by giving up a triple, single, and walk as Missouri got on the scoreboard.
He went 5.1 innings and surrendered five hits, two earned runs, and one walk, while striking out 10 Tigers. Struggling? No, but we’re all a bit spoiled by the success of Shore, who works deep into games by managing his pitch counts giving the Gators the potential for a win every Friday night.
-How good is the Florida pitching staff? They rank 2nd in the country in WHIP at .98. Sophomore Alex Faedo is 9th in the nation with 45 K’s and 10th in WHIP (.71). Shore’s WHIP is .77
-The Gators also rank #2 nationally in Strikeout-to-Walk ratio with 4.65. Shore and Faedo rank among the nation’s top pitcher in Strikeout-to-Walk ratio. Shore is 13th at 12.67, while Faedo is 16th at 11.25.
-Florida is tied for 2nd nationally (as are several other schools) with four shutouts in 2016.
-The Gators 2.44 ERA ranks 14th nationally.
-Reliever Kirby Snead’s 13 appearances are only two off the national lead which is 15.
-O’Sullivan and Florida have always taken pride in their solid defense. Florida currently ranks 6th nationally in fielding defense at .983.
-Kentucky leads the SEC with a .980 slugging percentage (21st nationally. Florida is 3rd in the conference at .972 (26th)
Florida junior A.J. Puk struck out the first two batters he faced in the top of the 2nd and fanned two Tigers in each of the next three innings until the sixth when he failed to record a strikeout. Puk made up for it in the 7th, by striking out the side before turning the ball over to freshman reliever Jackson Kowar.
In those seven shutout innings, Puk allowed just three hits and one walk on 107 pitches. That’s a strong for Puk, who doesn’t consistently work ahead of hitters.
The least talked about Florida player who is really putting together a strong campaign is Kirby Snead. His 1-0 record might not impress you, but a sparkling ERA of 0.61, opposing batting average of .204, and a WHIP of 1.12 are very impressive. He has helped Florida out of several jams this season.
Defensively, freshman Deacon Liput has not committed an error in 72 chances.
Will Pete Alonso continue to swing the hot bat on the weekends? Alonso’s .682 slugging percentage and nine doubles rank among the best in the Southeastern Conference.
Despite moving up to the #5 hole, freshman Deacon Liput is still swinging a solid bat. Liput is currently hitting .275 on the year with 14 walks.
Faedo is just Fine
Florida will send Faedo to the mound on Sunday to battle Kentucky senior Kyle Cody, who was the 73rd player chosen (Minnesota Twins) in the 2015 MLB Draft. Faedo surrendered five earned runs last Sunday after only allowing four earned runs in the previous 25.1 innings he pitched, but Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan explained why he was pleased with Faedo’s outing.
“If you look at his line, it’s five runs over six innings, but he pitched way better than that,” O’Sullivan said of Faedo. “It was one inning, but the thing about it is that he threw the change-up today the best it’s been thrown all year long. So, for me, even though it’s five runs over six, I look at it totally differently in that his five innings were outstanding and he’s now got that third pitch against lefties now. That’s going to help him because he threw his change more today than throughout the whole course of his career in any one game. That was a step in the right direction.”
Cody is a very talented pitcher for the ‘Cats. He is only the 10th Kentucky player to be selected in the first two rounds of the MLB Draft. He throws heat. His fastball comes in anywhere from 95-98 and he throws a plus slider.
Keep an eye on sophomore southpaw reliever Scott Moss. I would think O’Sullivan would really like to get him some additional work, provided the situation is right. Florida has (Anderson, Dunning, Kowar, Singer and Snead) they can count on out of the pen. There is no question that adding another left-hander would be beneficial. Moss (0-0, 1.29) has plunked four batters and walked five others in seven innings pitched. If he can eliminate those issues, he would be a great addition. Moss has struck out 15 in five appearances, which includes a start.
One of the most exciting games in college baseball is played annually at the Baseball Grounds in Jacksonville between Florida/Florida State. If you haven’t yet attended this game, add it to your college baseball bucket list. The teams will play on Tuesday and Gators fans need to show up in force, as many FSU fans make it a point to attend.
The crowds arrive late, because of the absurd 6pm start time, but once they arrive it makes for a very entertaining game. I would expect to see Sully give the ball to junior Dane Dunning, a Fleming Island native who has pitched well to earn the start in his hometown. Obviously, that will depend on what happens in Lexington.
Mark McLeod has covered Florida baseball (and football) since 1996. He is a member of the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association. He is a co-host on “Sports Time!’ heard weekday afternoons from 4-6pm on Florida Sports Talk- FM 100.1, AM 900, & AM 1230 (Gainesville/Ocala). Listen online at FloridaSportsTalk.fm. Follow Mark on twitter @McLeodLive