Austin Maddox saves Gators

For the second game in a row, a Florida Gators reliever shut down the Cal State Fullerton bats, making the Titans look foolish at the plate with a blend of fastballs and filthy sliders.

Austin Maddox made a splash in his season debut Saturday afternoon with four innings of shutout ball to preserve a 5-2 victory against Fullerton.

He surpassed Steven Rodriguez’s 40-pitch 2.1 inning scoreless effort Friday night.

In four innings, the junior threw 44 pitches, with 33 for strikes.

“I felt like I had everything working,” Maddox said. “My off-speed was working. The ball was coming out of my hand good. I just felt good all around.”

At one point, Maddox retired 10 batters in a row and only allowed one hit in his four innings of work. The Stopper of the Year candidate struck out three hitters, induced three ground ball outs and got six Titans to fly out. Most importantly, Maddox didn’t surrender a walk and managed to reach a three-ball count once.

Gators head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said there are no surprises when Maddox takes the hill.

“He’s got three pitches he can throw for strikes. He’s got a really good changeup. He’s got a really good slider,” O’Sullivan said. “He’s a starting type guy with a closer mentality. He’s kind of a calming effect. You kind of know what you are going to get.”

What Florida got from its bullpen in two games against the Titans is impressive. A combination of Steven Rodriguez and Greg Larson in game one, and Maddox in game two have thrown 7.1 shutout innings, allowing three hits, giving up no walks and earning one save (Maddox).

The Florida starters this season, junior Hudson Randall on Friday and sophomore Karsten Whitson on Saturday, pitched 10.2 innings giving up 10 hits, five earned runs and two walks.

Whitson said he tries to pitch as deep into games as he can, but having Maddox as an option is comforting.

“You know with Austin coming in behind you, he is going to throw strikes and he has always been dependable,” he said.

Maddox in 2012 looks different than the Maddox the Gators saw on the mound last season.

He still hit the mid-90s on the radar gun with his fastball Saturday, but Maddox said he used an improved slider, which Rodriguez helped him perfect.

Maddox focused on bettering his off-speed pitches this offseason and it’s paid off.

“I went from a two-seam grip to a four-seam grip,” Maddox said. “I feel like I can locate it better and throw it harder.”

Fullerton centerfielder and All-American candidate Michael Lorenzen experienced the slider first hand.

Lorenzen, Maddox’s first batter he faced, whiffed on a 2-2 slider that started on the outer half and ended up about four inches out of the strike zone.

The four innings Maddox pitched was the longest outing since his 4.1 inning stint last season against LSU on Mar. 20 of last season.

For a prototypical closer like Maddox, long relief doesn’t fit the job description, but the mindset doesn’t change.

“I feel comfortable in any role really,” Maddox said. “I am going to get on the mound and compete. That’s what I do. I feel comfortable any time I get the ball.”

Now since the Gators (2-0) clinched the season opening series against a top-25 team in Fullerton (0-2), one question remains for Maddox.

When will the former SEC Freshman of the Year who led the Gators in home runs (17) and RBIs (72) his freshman season, make his season debut at the plate?

“I think that is coming tomorrow, but I’m not sure,” he said.