If there is anything that people know that follow Gators’ Baseball under head coach Kevin O’Sullivan, he is going to make sure the pitching situation and the defense is up to snuff first and foremost. The Gators open up College World Series play against a team in Coastal Carolina that leads the nation in home runs. That’s all fine and dandy to Sully, but he is worried about his guys doing what they are capable of doing.
"At the end of the day, you can have all the scouting reports you want, we gotta do what we do,” O’Sullivan said when meeting with the media on Wednesday. “If we throw strikes and play good defense and execute pitches, we have a chance to be successful. If we don't, then we'll get beat. It's just that simple. Sure, you want to know who runs and who's got power and pull hitters...but at the end of the day, we just gotta do what we gotta do.”
O’Sullivan hasn’t been exactly forthcoming in the last few weeks about which pitcher would take the mound first during tournament play. Some of that has to do with an injury or sickness here and there and some of it gamesmanship. However, he isn’t hesitating this time and said s Friday night ace Logan Shore will take the mound against the Chanticleers.
“We'll go back I'm sure and we'll throw Logan Game 1, and we'll get back into our rotation and we'll worry about Game 2 when it comes, but Logan certainly will throw Game 1,” O’Sullivan said.
He does have options, an embarrassment of riches on the mound if you will. Florida has an arsenal of six pitchers that were selected in the Major League Baseball Draft last week and all will be rested and ready to go in Omaha. There are a few more that are just waiting to be draft eligible to have the same status lauded upon them.
O’Sullivan is a teacher of the craft. A former catcher, he has been coaching pitchers at a high level before he became the baseball coach at Florida nine years ago.
O’Sullivan likes to give credit to the players.
"It really comes down to the first thing and that's recruiting good players, let's be honest,” he started. “We're not recruiting players where there's a total overhaul in deliveries. We're recruiting really good pitchers that have good arms. And if you look at them, most of them are projectable. It's an inexact science. There not all coming in throwing 92-94, but it's the 88-92 range and the arm works right and the body has room to fill out and they throw strikes. That's the thing recruiting wise you're trying to look for.
“When you look at most of our guys their bodies are pretty similar. Tall, lean, athletic, arm works. There's not a lot, arm action is pretty clean, but I think more than anything else it’s the whole package, the feeling of the position to hold the runner, developing a change-up… those types of things.”
Florida has a pitching roster full of guys that throw in the mid to high 90’s. They all seem to be in the 6-foot-3 to even 6-foot-7 range in the case of Puk with strong arms and the ability to blow the ball by people. Sully says it’s the change-up, when expecting the fastball that has made this staff special.
“I think from this staff in particular there are good power arms, but the development of the change-up has been probably as good as I've had since I've been here,” he said. “We have a bunch of guys that have learned to slow the ball down and that's hard to do. When you're being told how good of an arm you have, everything is about velocity, but really the ability to change speeds and throw your breaking ball for a called strike in fastball count and throw a change-up is probably what made this staff better than what we've had."
A tournament like the College World Series means you need to have a bunch of arms that can throw against all kinds of lineups. That is what Florida has and they should be just about at full strength heading into Omaha. He should get freshmen Jackson Kowar and Brady Singer back for what should hopefully be a long trip.
"Brady Singer... he'll be fine,” O’Sullivan said of one of his hot shot freshman arms. “Just a little sore in the back, so we'll take care of that this week and he'll be 100 percent out in Omaha. And Jackson Kowar is gonna throw an inning today and if the ball comes out of his hand and it goes forward, he's gonna be on the 27-man. I'm not putting any value or stock in how he throws today. He threw a pen on Sunday and looked great. As long as he goes out there and the ball goes to the catcher, he'll be on the 27-man. (I’m) excited about him getting back with us."
Shore who keeps extending his Gator record winning streak as a pitcher knows the depth at the position is very important as well. One or two of the guys have struggled in tournament play and it seems another is right there to pick up the slack and help finish games off.
“Definitely, and I think everybody is at their best,” he said. Dane comes in there on Monday. Puk was struggling with his command a little bit and he did a tremendous job of working around all the situations he got himself into and put zeroes on the board. You know, when you walk six and hit a batter and put zeroes on the board that is pretty impressive. Dane comes in and throws three or four scoreless innings and is pretty much unhittable. Shaun comes in and closes it out and that is what we’ve been trying to work for and this is when it all matters.
“Singer, we will need him down the stretch. Jackson is supposed to throw today, so we will see how he feels. All of our pitchers are ready to go and we’re ready to get down to Omaha.”
In Shore’s last outing, you could tell that the other guys fed off of his pitching. In game two of the series with Florida State, Shore was absolutely dominant and continuously struck out the Seminole hitters with flash. It seemed to ignite the bats a little bit and push the Gators to hitting the ball better than the night before when they were shut out on only two hits.
Shore would throw eight scoreless innings with nine strikeouts while the bats woke up swatting 10 hits and scoring five runs.
“I don’t think Faedo pitched bad Saturday night,” Shore said. “I just think we ran into a guy that was on that night and we didn’t score any runs. It’s tough to win when you don’t score. I do think pitching is contagious as well as hitting. Hopefully we can carry that into Omaha.”
The other guys know how important the pitching is as well.
“It’s awesome,” junior first baseman Pete Alonso said of having this kind of staff. “We know if we’re having a little trouble scoring runs offensively, we know Logan, A.J., or Dunning or Faedo, or any other guy, or Shaun, they’re going to have our backs. They’re going to throw up a zero or keep the games close and then finally when we score runs they’re going to keep it there. They’re going to keep the other team at bay. We have an incredible pitching staff and that gives us a lot of confidence at the plate.”
The ballpark in Omaha should play into the hands of the nation’s best pitching staff and defense as well.
“T.D. Ameritrade is a pretty big park and having a staff like we do is going to help because typically the ball doesn’t travel as well there,” says the guy that hit the longest home run in the ball park’s history last year along with two others. “Having a good pitching staff like that, the long ball is going to be less of a factor. You’re going to have to focus on playing the game of baseball and having a pitching staff that is able to stifle offenses like we do is an incredible confidence booster.”
Shortstop Dalton Guthrie has made a seamless transition this year from playing second base where he played at an All-Star level a year ago. He knows how good this staff has been and expects will be in Omaha. He credits the pitching staff for the excellent defense played behind them.
“I think that’s something that makes you a better fielder is when you have pitchers that just fill up the zone and keep you active,” Guthrie said. “And it’s something that’s taken for granted more than anything. So a guy like Shore, who has great command, he gets plays made behind him because he keeps the fielders on their feet and stuff. I think it’s the little things like that that don’t always get understood when you look at stat lines and things, but that’s why a guy like Shore does have success, because he fills up the zone and works with pace and stuff like that. I credit the pitchers for a lot of our success on defense.”
A new season of sorts starts on Sunday and the fun of the new season will be in stepping up the competition.
“It will be fun,” Shore said of starting off against Coastal Carolina. “(It’s) the best pitching staff in the country against the team with the most home runs. It will be a good game number one. I think Omaha and T.D. Ameritrade will play a little bit in our favor with how big the ballpark is. Once we get to this stage, every team in Omaha has gotten there for a reason. They’ve gotten there because they are playing extremely well. We aren’t going to take anyone lightly. We’re going to scout Coastal Carolina like everyone else throughout the year. We’ll be ready to go on Sunday night.”
Puk will be a big part of the trip to Omaha…
"At the end of the day what I've told him and continue to tell him, we will not win a national championship without him having a part in this thing,” O’Sullivan said. “And we're going to run him right back out there, I don't know when that will be, but he will pitch in Omaha if we're fortunate to stay out there for a while. For me, you're always one start away from getting right back where you want to be. It's just like hitting. You're one game away, one at-bat away from just being right back where you want to be. And that's really the mindset you have to have. It's not an easy game. He's going to throw (well) and I really believe that. I'm not just saying that to kind of motivate him. I do believe that when he gets the ball again he's going to throw the ball (well). I believe that."