When Florida kicks off SEC play this weekend against Kentucky (14-2), the Gators (8-10) will also be entering their toughest series of the young season.
The 10th-ranked Wildcats are one of the best teams in the nation, flashing a seasoned triumvirate of lefty arms during their weekend bouts.
“Obviously their pitching is very good,” Kevin O’Sullivan said on Thursday. “They run three veteran left-handers out at you, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. They got a really good closer in [Trevor] Gott … we’ll have our hands full this weekend.
“Their Friday guy (A.J. Reed) reminds us a lot of (former Florida pitcher) Brian Johnson — hits in the middle of their order. They got a senior (Jerad Grundy) going on Saturdays, and [Corey] Littrell — who’s as good as anybody on our league going on Sunday, so they’re a complete team.”
With Florida struggling to get quality, deep outings from their starters, O’Sullivan has decided to shake things up in his own weekend pitching rotation.
“We’re going to go [Jay] Carmichael, [Jonathon] Crawford and [Eric] Hanhold in that order,” O’Sullivan said.
The true freshman Carmichael will be the first Gator to start a Friday night SEC opener since Hudson Randall was given the starting nod against Alabama on May 7th of 2010.
“I’m not going to ask him to do anything more than we’ve already asked of him,” O’Sullivan said. “He deserves to get a chance to pitch and see what he can do.”
With Carmichael (2-1 2.00 ERA) taking over the Friday night duties, the regular Friday starter Crawford will be waiting until Saturday to pitch.
Despite being tabbed as a preseason all-American, Crawford (0-2 4.22 ERA) has gotten off to a rather slow start this season. However, even though the decision was made this week to move his start to Saturday, O’Sullivan stated that Crawford has been improving.
“I was really pleased with his bullpen yesterday,” O’Sullivan said. “He’s not far off. We haven’t really given him a whole lot of run support on Friday nights, so every pitch has been an intense one.
“He hasn’t had a whole lot of room to breathe. I would think that he’s going to be better as the season goes on.”
Not one to make excuses, Crawford owned up to his bitter start, noting that he can still make a number of improvements.
“I haven’t pitched to the best of my abilities at all,” Crawford said. “I think I can improve on a lot of things, which is jumping ahead and throwing less pitches.
“As a staff as a whole, we just got to work deeper into games and give our bullpen a rest.”
Crawford was supportive of Carmichael on Thursday, while also acknowledging the tough situation Florida’s young arms have been thrust into this year with the season ending injuries to Karsten Whitson and Keenan Kish.
“They were going to have to do it eventually,” Crawford said in regards to Florida’s young pitchers playing more. “Unfortunately, it came sooner than later.”
On Carmichael he added: “He’s done a great job. He’s one of the guys we call on out of the bullpen. He’s come in and minimized the damage as best as possible.”
When speaking on what his team needs to work on, O’Sullivan was direct. Florida’s pitchers need to go deeper into games than they have, and the Gators need to be more aggressive at the plate.
“We’ve been falling behind an awful lot lately,” O’Sullivan said. “When you’re not swinging the bats and you’re down three, four runs after five (innings), it tends to lead to some negative outcomes, so we just got to do a better job.”
Although Florida has played in 18 games this season, sophomore Casey Turgeon used one of sports’ all-time favorite clichés to describe the Gators’ record heading into SEC play — “we’re 0-0,” he said.
Crawford echoed the sentiment, stating: “It’s basically a new season.”
The phrases may be tired, but both players have a point. With an ultimate goal of making it to Hoover, Ala. for the SEC Tournament, the in-conference slate is the most integral portion of the schedule. And in conference play, the Gators are undefeated.
Real life isn’t like the movies. A couple of changes in pitching order and the lineup won’t instantly spark an undefeated run to Omaha, Neb.
But in a way, despite the sub-.500 record, the Gators will be the recipients of a fresh start this weekend.
“It doesn’t really matter what our record is going into this game,” Turgeon said. “What’s done is done.”
“We’re going to come with a clear head, and we’re going to play some Gator baseball.”