Photo by Danny Parker

Analysis: Chemistry, pitching aid in sweep of Tribe

There were a few nerves at play when the Florida baseball team took the field for the season opener against William & Mary on Friday night. The Gators got the 5-4 win, courtesy of few late inning heroics. And I think that’s its’ safe to say Florida played loose and free on Saturday and Sunday as the Gators swept the Tribe 8-1, 11-6.

The freshmen are already having an impact. We’ll discuss their play in the games, but did television give you a feel for what was happening in the dugout?

The antics from the Florida dugout in 2017 appears to be fun. It doesn’t matter if it’s Andrew Baker- The Dancing Man, the vocal dugout cheers that blast through at times, the Home Run Tunnel, or the enthusiasm of the Pride of Williston, Florida- Austin Langworthy, who has his own cheering section.

It’s all very refreshing. It’s good for Florida baseball.

We watched as the Gators executed a come-from-behind 5-4 rally in the season opener, so we have got an early glimpse of their competitive spirit and confidence. And we’ll find out a lot more about this team next weekend when they host arch-rival Miami.

“Our freshmen have really come in and been awesome for us as far as just being able to blend in and mesh with the whole team,” sophomore pitcher Jackson Kowar said. “They’re not very clichy at all and those guys can really fit in. They’re awesome in the dugout. They’re not nervous or shy, they’re into it and that’s huge. You can tell what kind of energy you have on a hot Sunday, early in the year to have that kind of energy in the dugout was huge as a starter knowing that I had all of those guys with me.”

Langworthy had a cheering section in the stands above the 3rd base line. They were very vocal and when I asked him about them, he humbly chalked it up to being a local guy.

This kid will be a fan favorite.  

There were a few times in recent years that I felt as though the Florida baseball team played a tight in the post-season. Will this team play loose, but focused next weekend against Miami? It’s a terrific opportunity to see how these young freshmen impact that dugout. Obviously, every team has a unique personality and this one should entice fans to get out to McKethan. And credit head coach Kevin O’Sullivan for embracing the attitude of this team.

“I like this team, I really do,” O’Sullivan told me a three weeks ago. “I like the chemistry with this group. They’re a little different, but they’re competitors. I’m excited to see what happens, but I do think it will be good.”


Bullpen Notes

The most often asked question going into the weekend opener was how the bullpen would fare, particularly middle relief. We didn’t have to wait long to mark down a few names that they should be able to count on in 2017.  

The Florida bullpen provided 10 1/3 scoreless innings before they surrendered a run in the top of the 8th on Sunday?

It sparkled on Friday night with junior left-hander Nick Horvath (1.1ip, 1h, 0r, 0bb, 1k) and sophomore righty Michael Byrne (3ip, 1h, 0r, 0bb, 4k) taking command of the hill.

Horvath came on with starter Alex Faedo struggling. Uncharacteristically, Faedo wasn’t able to get into a rhythm.

It didn’t start well for Horvath either, who surrendered the triple to right center by Cullen Large, but he came back to get clean-up hitter Hunter Smith on a ground ball to end the inning. Horvath was throwing his fastball 88-89 mph and did a nice job coming out in the 6th inning, where he required just nine pitches before trotting back to the dugout. He worked both sides of the plate and while it’s only one outing, I wonder if he will be used much like Sully used Kirby Snead early last season as the first lefty out of the pen?

Byrne (1-0) surprised me with his outing. He located his pitches and had good movement on all of them. He was just superb with 31 of his 38 pitches recorded as strikes. His fastball was coming in at 89-90 as he struck out the first batter that he faced on just three pitches. Byrne spotted his off-speed pitches like a seasoned veteran. He needed just nine pitches, eight of them strikes to get out of the 7th inning. O’Sullivan said that he will get the start on Tuesday night in Jacksonville.

“Yeah, I was feeling it right out of the bullpen, dropping breaking balls and throwing strikes,” Byrne said.

On Saturday, the Florida relievers were able to come on with the Gators commanding a comfortable 5-1 lead. Starter Brady Singer did a solid job on the Tribe bats and the Gators offense gave Singer and the pen some much needed run support.    

Langworthy came on in the 6th and worked 2.2 scoreless innings allowing just three hits, while striking out two Tribe batters. He doesn’t throw the ball hard, but the left-hander brings a unique resume to O’Sullivan’s pitching staff. His fastball is mid 80’s, so it’s quite a change after seeing the likes of Faedo, Jackson Kowar, or in this case, Singer.

Austin Langworthy Gators UAA Communications
 He suggested in the post-game interview that he might be a long relief guy. I don’t see that right now. It appears that as a freshman Langworthy would be ideal in situations that require a lefty/lefty matchup, much like Sully used Kirby Snead late last season, throwing to one or two batters. He is also a guy who can gain additional experience eating up some inning for Florida. Furthermore, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him throwing 88 by next season.        

“(Austin) Langworthy came in and he’s just a baseball player,” O’Sullivan said. “He throws strikes and it’s probably a nice combination to bring him in behind Singer. And (Andrew) Baker, you saw him. I’ve been high on him since day one. It’s good to get these guys out there.”

Andrew Baker (2.1ip, 1h, 0r, 0bb, 4k) played dual roles coming in on Saturday as the closer. He needed just 11 pitches to retire put the final touches on the game for the Gators. Baker’s fastball was in at 90 mph and he located all of his pitches well with 20 of his 28 pitches recorded as strikes.

Andrew Baker Gators UAA Communications
 He returned to the mound on Sunday as the left-hander to counter RHP Jackson Kowar, who masterfully controlled the Tribe with three solid pitches. I love how fast Baker works on the mound.  

We also got a glimpse of a pair of freshmen right-handers- Tyler Dyson and Nick Long. Dyson needed just 10 pitches to record the first two outs of the 9th in the weekend finale. His fastball was 95-97. He first batter he faced had difficulty keeping up with it and popped up to the mound.

Meanwhile, Long threw a perfectly located first pitch strike at the bottom corner of the zone that registered 92 on the gun. He missed on a few other pitches surrendering a a single and a walk.

Florida has a few freshman who should get a look in their upcoming two game home/home series against Jacksonville which begins on Tuesday night on the First Coast.

“Dyson is up to 97, I think, and he’s a converted position player,” O’Sullivan said. “He’s only been pitching for two years. But, the arm strength is obvious and Nick Long has gotten a lot better. He was 91-94 today with a good breaking ball. So, those guys have good arms. And Nate Brown even though he gave up three runs, he’s really good as well. And we have some other freshmen who haven’t pitched yet either- Garrett Milchin, a two-way player. He got hit with that line drive, but he’s close and we need to get him out there. Kirby McMullen is another local kid from Ocala who is going to have a chance to pitch and hit for us and we have two mid-week games, so we’ll get them out there”.

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