Play Ball…  No. 5 Gators open the baseball season

The No. 5 Florida Gators will start a new season Friday night with William and Mary on the docket. Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan is amped again for a new year as the Gators embark on what they hope is yet another trip to Omaha and the College World Series at the end of the season. The Gators have a lot going for them this time around.

Dating back to 1966, the Gators are 5-0 vs. William and Mary. The O’Sullivan hopes this current series is headed in that same direction.

"(I’m) just excited like I always am,” Florida’s skipper said following a scrimmage late Thursday. “It's a little different than my first year, first couple years. You have a little bit of jitters and that type of thing, but just excited to get our team on the field. We've worked awfully hard to get to this point, and I know everybody's excited about getting the first game underneath their belt and it should be fun. We're looking forward to it."

O’Sullivan returns a pretty veteran team in the field and starting rotation in pitching, but he will be playing a ton of youth I the bullpen and that area will be a work in progress throughout the first few weeks of the season.

"I already did the lineups for the first three games and there will be changes in all three,” O’Sullivan said. “Obviously you've got the starting rotation with Alex (Faedo), Brady (Singer) and Jackson (Kowar). We've got a lot of questions marks in the bullpen. We're young. I think I counted up like nine freshmen in the pen or mid-week starter type guys. So hopefully we can find our spots to put them in position to be successful early and give them some confidence. But I think all in all the lineup will be relatively the same all weekend with maybe two changes or so in each game to try to get some guys some opportunity."


One spot that will see change during the weekend is at first base. Pete Alonso was a mainstay last season but was drafted by Major League Baseball. Christian Hicks (JR) and J.J. Schwarz (JR) seem the most likely duo to play the most at the position this year. We should see both of them at first this weekend along with Keenan Bell (FR).

"You'll see J.J. over there,” O’Sullivan said. “Obviously he'll be behind the plate (catching as well) this weekend. He'll be over there. Christian Hicks will be over there. And Keenan Bell at some point will get an opportunity as well. But I think tomorrow night you'll probably see Christian over there. He's earned the right to start over there opening night." 

O’Sullivan has been adamant this offseason that he believes his weekend starting rotation can be as effective as the one he last year that helped propel his team into yet another College World Series appearance.

For that to happen, sophomores Brady Singer and Jackson Kowar are going to have to flourish.  The two sophomores showed big time arms a year ago but need to be more consistent and supply O’Sullivan’s team with as many innings as they can get over the weekend so that he doesn’t have to rely too much on the younger arms in the bullpen.

"If they throw like they've been throwing, I'm not concerned at all,” O’Sullivan said of his two sophomore starters. “I mean, Brady's been lights out. Jackson was really good last time out. So you've seen or heard about them -- they're all 6-4, 6-5 and they've all got plus fastballs and good secondary and they're all probably first-round picks, high first-round picks, so we'll see. Just go out there and do their thing and not try to do too much."

There was really no rhyme or reason to pick one or the other to pitch Saturday or Sunday, O’Sullivan says they both can carry the load.

"If they all pitched up to their capabilities, you have three 1’s,” he said including Friday starter Alex Faedo in that mix. “I don't look at it any differently. I haven't given it a whole lot of thought. I don't see a whole lot of difference in all three of them. Somebody has to pitch on Saturday and somebody has to pitch on Sunday. I didn't really put too much thought into it, to be honest with you."

O’Sullivan has added a bit of offense to his roster in the offseason. There will be freshmen stepping in to provide some offensive spark as well as some veterans like Hicks that have really produced at a higher level in the offseason.

He wants to get things rolling in a big way this weekend and get some young guys some time on the field.

"I just want to see us play clean,” he said. “I'd love to get a lot of these younger pitchers out there and give them some confidence. I'd like to play good defense and I'd really like to see our lineup. I think this team's got a chance to hit. I think we've got a chance to score some runs. It could be an exciting offense. We've got some power. We've got some guys who can run a little bit. So just play clean and you know keep their nerves in check and not try to do too much. Just go out there and play aggressively and have fun."


The Injury Front…

There are two injuries of note right now. Freshmen Andrew Baker and Garrett Milchin are both two- way players that are expected to see action this season. Both are nursing hand injuries back to health and close to helping the team. Baker will not be able to do anything but pitch for a while, but we should see the talented freshman arm this weekend.

"Baker will be able to pitch for us this weekend,” O’Sullivan said. “Obviously he won't be able to swing to probably mid-March. And Garrett, we don't know yet. It's still a little swollen, but it's gotten a lot better over the last week. So I don't know. It's probably more day to day at this point."


On William and Mary…

This isn’t your usual preseason invitee for the slaughter. William and Mary was a NCAA Regional team that won a couple of games in the Regional a year ago including one against Virginia.

"It's amazing. You schedule some teams from the north and they end up being really good,” O’Sullivan said. “I think William & Mary is that type of team. They return all three starters, and two of them are seniors. You know how hard it is to keep seniors around. We have a hard time doing that because of the draft. And they return seven of their nine hitters.

“They won their conference tournament last year. They played well at the right time of the year. They beat Bryant in a regional and they beat Virginia. They're certainly capable. They'll be excited. The weather's great. It'll be a great crowd. Everybody's tired of playing against themselves in intra-squad games. I would expect it to be very competitive. I expect them to be a regional-type team again. We'll have to play well just like it is every other night or every other weekend."



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