A week from today Jonathon Crawford will deliver the first pitch of Florida’s 2013 baseball season.
A lot has led up to this moment. Crawford has picked up a couple of preseason All-American honors since tossing a no-hitter in last season’s Gainesville Regional opener.
The junior right-hander was near perfect that Friday night against Bethune-Cookman. He walked one, only to have catcher Mike Zunino throw the runner out attempting to steal second base, so Crawford faced the minimum of 27 batters.
“I know my expectations now,” Crawford said this week. “I get to go out there, be the Friday guy and get to kick off the series and have a strong performance for my team.”
Because of all of the pressure and preseason hype, the main thing Crawford cannot do is try to be too perfect when the Gators open the season with a three-game home series against Duke, which begins at 7 p.m. on Friday. Pitchers who try to be “too fine” with their pitches actually end up making mistakes.
It’s the old pitcher’s adage — don’t aim, just throw.
And throw his 98-mph fastball Crawford will. He simply needs to take it one pitch and one inning at a time as he does his part in trying to help Florida reach the College World Series for a fourth consecutive time.
“My individual goal is to be a Friday guy and go out there and pitch seven strong innings each time I pitch,” Crawford said. “For the team, the expectation is to go to Omaha again. That’s the goal every year.”
There is a difference fans and opposing batters will see in Crawford right off the bat. He’s always been able to overpower batters with his fastball while keeping them off balance with his breaking ball.
This offseason, he’s added a third pitch to his arsenal: a changeup. When thrown correctly, a changeup can be the great equalizer in baseball. An ideal changeup is thrown about 8-10 mph slower than a pitcher’s fastball, meaning Crawford could be humming his changeup across the plate close to 90 mph, which is at a higher velocity than most pitcher’s fastballs.
National College Baseball Hall of Fame coach Gary Ward, who is known for his series called “The Hitting Machine,” is noted for saying a well-located changeup is the one pitch that can beat his hitting system.
Apparently, it’s a pitch Crawford has had success developing.
“He threw it the other day a lot and it looked really, really good,” said Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan. “He threw it about 10-12 times and probably 85 percent of those were strikes. That’s the biggest separator from this year to last year – he’s always had the great fastball and breaking ball, but the changeup, the way it has evolved, has taken him to another level.”
The Gators hope it takes them to another level as well, beginning with Friday’s season opener. Crawford said he learned a lot by watching last season’s Friday starter Hudson Randall.
“He was a great Friday-night guy,” Crawford said. “He had a high running through his veins and he showed no emotion and that’s what I took from him.”