Head coach Kevin O’Sullivan approached a crowded room wanting to set the tone for the years to come. His players were in their first week back for the fall semester and months away from the season’s beginning, but the new head coach wanted to make his point clear.
“That first meeting he laid it all out there for us,” sophomore pitcher Billy Bullock said. “You could tell he was jacked up about everything that was about to happen. We all fed off that excitement. Everything now is totally different.”
Different is something the returning players won’t complain about. O’Sullivan has brought freshness to the clubhouse after underachieving to a 29-30 record last year. It’s even noticeable to freshman pitcher Tommy Toledo.
“It’s fun to come out to the fields and work with the coaches because of their excitement level,” Toledo said. “It’s been a tough offseason for us. We’ve conditioned in the morning and lifted real hard. We’re in the best shape we’ve ever been in. Even after all that, we still love to be out here working hard.”
The pitchers are putting in extra work before the season begins on Feb. 22. Last year’s pitching staff struggled to the tune of a 5.27 ERA and opponents hit .307 against them.
The perfect remedy for a struggling pitching staff could be O’Sullivan, the former pitching coach and associate head coach at Clemson. While the Gators were struggling through a less than impressive season on the mound, O’Sullivan was busy leading a unit of Tiger pitchers to a 3.73 team ERA and a .263 opponents’ batting average.
O’Sullivan said the makeover of the Gator pitching staff is currently on schedule.
“They’re buying in pretty well,” O’Sullivan said. “They really have no choice though. It’s really an easy philosophy.”
The new pitching philosophy is simple. Get the ball back from the catcher, get back on the mound and throw the next pitch with the least amount of wasted time.
“We want to change the timing of the game,” Toledo said. “It should be quicker and get the batters thrown off a little bit.”
Billy Bullock’s favorite part about the new philosophy is the intimidation factor for opposing hitters. It gives the batter a sense that the pitchers are in charge of the game.
“It’s been pretty intimidating for some of the hitters on the team so far,” Bullock said. “They know that we have the ball, and we put it in play.”
There are other assets to the new philosophy that Bullock likes.
“As pitchers, we’re now allowed to call our own pitches during the game,” Bullock said. “We aren’t just a puppet for someone else anymore. There is now responsibility that comes along with making bad pitches.”
Kyle Mullaney is projected to be a weekend starter and leader for the young Gator pitching staff. He only started five games on the mound last season, but he posted a 4-2 record and a 4.25 ERA throughout the year. He will now be depended on as a big part of this year’s team.
“I’m ready to go,” Mullaney said. “I’ve tightened up my delivery and gotten a lot more comfortable with the pitches I’ll be throwing. Coach O’Sullivan has been easy to work with and helped me with anything I need. The first day I met him he came running up to me and shook my hand. Even then he was getting hyped up about the season.”
Bullock, projected as the Saturday pitcher for the team, returns after an up-and-down freshman season. The sophomore says he feels seasoned and thankful for the year of experience he gained last year.
“People don’t understand how tough it is for a freshman to go into South Carolina or Arkansas and pitch in front of sometimes 12,000 people,” Bullock said. “Now that I’ve got that year of experience, I feel ready to go.”
Toledo is one of the more excitable freshmen in a talented group of first timers. Toledo passed on a third round selection by the San Diego Padres to pitch for the Gators. His loyalty may pay off with a spot in the weekend rotation.
According to Sullivan, the on the mound Toledo is far different from the off-the-field freshman.
“You would never know that Tommy Toledo’s a third-round pick the way he carries himself,” O’Sullivan said. “He’s very modest. He’s going to be a good one.”
That’s the way O’Sullivan wants all of his players. His teaching only begins on the field, and he sees plenty of opportunities off the field to convince his players they are in an envious situation.
“I want to teach these kids it’s a privilege to put this uniform on and come to the University of Florida,” O’Sullivan said.