This past weekend the Gators weekend rotation of A.J. Puk, Logan Shore, and Alex Faedo was as dominant as you’ll likely see in Southeastern Conference play for a team that had to rally to capture the series.
The combined numbers for Puk, Shore, and Faedo were staggering- 21.1 innings pitched, 7 hits, 1 run, 1 earned run, and 4 walks, while striking out 22 Bulldogs. The trio posted a 0.42 ERA, 0.52 WHIP, and Georgia batters hit just .101 against them.
Puk deserved the win on Thursday night, while Shore established a new school-record for consecutive wins (13). Meanwhile, Faedo (8-1, 3.32) rather quietly improved his record and helped secure the Gators the series victory.
Alex Faedo is the best weekend series executioner in the country.
“I love watching him pitch, because his heart is always into it,” Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “He’s into every pitch. The team rallies behind him. If you watch our defenders in the infield and he makes a big pitch you’ll see Dalton (Guthrie) out there clapping his glove. Our guys’ kind of feed off of it. And that’s why I love pitching him on Sunday, because he just gives you an added energy that sometimes on Sunday’s or mid-week games you just don’t have.”
“It’s easy to get excited about a Friday night game when (Logan) Shore is matched up against somebody’s number one or when Puk goes to the mound on Saturday when he’s as sharp as he’s been the last couple of starts,” O’Sullivan added. “Everybody is excited to watch his stuff and watch him throw. Sometimes those Sunday games are the ones that kind of drag a little bit and those mid-week games. That’s why I’ve always liked having him that third spot it just gives you a huge lift from a team standpoint.”
Outside of Frank Rubio’s Thursday night outing where he was saddled with the loss and Dane Dunning’s Sunday performance the bullpen was very good.
Florida currently leads the Southeastern Conference in ERA (2.82), opposing batting average (.221), walks allowed (100), and strikeouts (448). They lead the nation in strikeouts and strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.49).
Gators moved back to #1
Top ranked Miami suffered through their worst week of the year with a 1-3 record and 4th ranked Vanderbilt dropped their weekend series to arch-rival Tennessee. Meanwhile, Texas A&M took Texas State in their mid-week game and took two out of three over Alabama in College Station.
So, Florida recaptured the top spot and Texas A&M settled in as the #2 team in most of the polls.
Schwarz, Alonso carve up the Dawgs
It was good to see the middle of the Gators order swinging the bats well. J.J. Schwarz went 5 for 12 (.417) with an RBI. Schwarz drove three singles off Georgia ace Robert Tyler, easily the most successful of the Florida batters.
On Sunday first baseman Pete Alonso demonstrated his power with a blast over the center field fence to give the Gators a 2-0 lead. He went back to center later in the game with a double.
In the series, Alonso went 4 for 11 (.364) with three runs scored and walk in addition to the home run and RBI’s.
“I told him at the end of the game that he doesn’t quite understands just how strong he is and it’s frustrating sometimes when he takes the pitches that you think he can drive,” O’Sullivan said of Alonso’s power. “This our ninth year here and I can count on one hand how many guys can drive the ball out of the yard in dead centerfield. It’s not easy to do and I know the wind was blowing out, but it didn’t matter with him. And we need him. We need him to provide some power for us. It just makes our lineup that much better.”
Nelson Maldonado struggled in the series finishing 1-10. Dating back to the Florida State game, then freshman is 3 for 23 (.130). While it’s not unusual to see a freshman struggling, Florida needs more offensive production from him at the bottom of the lineup in this stretch.
The Gators didn’t get much from leadoff man Dalton Guthrie and two-hole hitter Deacon Liput, who combined to hit just 4 for 23 (.174) with four runs scored.
Welcome to Murderer’s Row
Florida hits the road for back-to-back road trips. The Gators will travel to Columbia for a three-game series against the team with the best conference mark in the SEC, South Carolina (33-8, 14-4).
Last weekend series
Previous weekend series
at South Carolina
Defeated Missouri 3-0
Lost to Georgia 2-1
The Gators will follow that up with a trip to Knoxville to face a Tennessee (23-17, 6-12) squad who stole the weekend series from in-state rival Vanderbilt.
With a final exam schedule, graduation, and a brutal schedule down the stretch Florida will probably enjoy a getaway.
“They’re probably looking forward to it,” O’Sullivan said of his team. “The one thing that it will do is it will make us battle-tested and we’ll be ready for post season, I know that. If there is ever a team that can handle a tough stretch like this, this team can. We’ve got pitching. We’ve got defense. Our offense will continue to get better. I’m looking forward to getting on the road with these guys.”
Don’t sell the Volunteers short. It’s always tough to win on the road. Just ask the Commodores. And remember, Ole Miss and Kentucky both failed to sweep the Vols in Lindsey Nelson Stadium. Keep an eye on southpaw Aaron Soto (4-2, 4.02), who has pitched pretty well on Friday night.
Florida will then return home to McKethan Stadium to host Vanderbilt (30-10, 10-8) before concluding the regular season in Baton Rouge against LSU (27-13, 10-8). Three series against probable top-10 teams is a typical second half wrap for Florida.
“This is the time of the year when you get to the second half of the season where everybody is fighting for their lives and everybody is fighting to get into the tournament,” O’Sullivan said. “With nine of our last twelve games on the road this is a game that we needed to win.”
As of press deadline Will Muschamp had not fired baseball coach Chad Holbrook or reshuffled the Gamecocks lineup for a more explosive offense.
Gators, Media Say Goodbye to Big John
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Florida Baseball SID John Hines left his position for another opportunity on campus. Hines did a superb job helping all of us in the press box gather information for all of you. He went above and beyond despite the undisclosed number of laps he took around McKethan Stadium to do his job. He will be missed by all of us!
His importance to the program was probably best mapped out by Sully.
“First of all, I’m really, really excited for he and his family,” O’Sullivan said. “It’s a great opportunity for him and he stays with the university. This was my first head coaching job. There is no handbook. There is no manual. You really don’t realize how important the sports staff is. It’s all about the X’s and O’s, coaching players, and recruiting. As you go along there is so much more to it and you mature and you get better and figure out ways to do things better and John (Hines) has been instrumental in helping me along this journey and he’s been my right hand man. He’s helped all of us and been a huge part of our program and part of me is really sad to see him go to be honest with you. But, the other part is that I’m excited for him, excited for his family, his wife and child and wish them nothing but the best…and whoever we bring in has big shoes to fill.”
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. He also co-hosts “The Gator Blitz” podcast twice weekly with Brent Beaird. Follow Mark on twitter @McLeodLive