Florida Gators baseball is coming off a crushing season-opening series loss to the Liberty Flames this past weekend.
Liberty presented a difficult test to start the season and the Gators were not up for it as the Flames came into Florida Ballpark and were the better team.
Now, the Gators look to right the ship as they face the Stetson Hatters on Tuesday. It is the first of five games this week as they look to turn a rough start into a good one in 2022.
The Hatters hosted The Hatter Classic over the weekend and took two of their three matchups, beating Delaware and Manhattan while losing to Notre Dame.
Manning Needs A Bounce Back
Questions swirled all offseason about how Florida’s rotation would shape up and this weekend’s series left more questions than answers.
It came as a bit of a surprise when Timmy Manning got the nod over Brandon Sproat on Saturday and it did not help either guys cause that both struggled when they saw action on Saturday. Manning allowed four runs on five hits and two walks in three innings pitched. Sproat had difficulty finding the strike zone, allowing a run on a hit and two walks in two innings of work.
Head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said that the pitching rotation is determined based on results, not matchups. He said while the rotation is set for now, it can always change based on how guys pitch.
Based on that, it is not surprising that Manning is getting the start against Stetson tonight. It does not rule him out to start again Saturday, but it may mean a switch is coming. If Manning is bumped, Sproat would be the next man in line to start Saturday against Georgia State.
However, Manning dealing could lead to O’Sullivan handing him the ball again on Saturday. The Gators certainly need him to pitch well as they must turn around this rough start.
These two midweek games are big chances for Florida to build some momentum heading into this weekend’s series against Georgia State.
Finding More Offense
Florida’s offense looked eerily similar to last year’s team this past weekend. The team scored in bunches, struck out 31 times and struggled in important situations. The Gators were just 5-23 with runners in scoring position and scored just seven runs in the final two games.
“We struck out a tremendous amount of times,” O’Sullivan said. “And we had not done that in the preseason.”
The good news is the top of the order got off to a good start. Sterlin Thompson went 4-12 in the series and added two home runs–including a grand slam–on Friday night.
Jud Fabian had three hits and drew three walks, while Colby Halter added three hits.
Wyatt Langford showed why he earned the starting job in left field, picking up three hits including a home run in the series. He hit eighth on Friday night, but got the bump up to the cleanup spot by the end of the weekend.
After that, things were bleak for Florida. O’Sullivan said following Sunday’s game, it would be key for guys in the bottom of the order to beginning providing some protection behind Thompson.
“There’s certain things in the lineup that have to happen,” O’Sullivan said, “our older guys gotta do their job and we gotta have some people behind Sterlin [Thompson] that can protect him.
One bright spot at the bottom of the order was the younger Fabian brother, Deric. He only had one hit in the series but showed tremendous plate discipline, walking four times. He got on base in half of his plate appearances which lead the team.
Florida will need to get a spark from the offense to provide more protection for their young bullpen. O’Sullivan said all offseason it would be key to let the young arms settle in by making things easy on them, but the Gators did the exact opposite.
“The pitching is gonna be up and down at the beginning of the season because of the youth,” O’Sullivan said. “The offense has to take some of the pressure off of the young arms.”
Coverage of Tuesday’s game begins on 98.1 FM 850 AM WRUF at 6:25 p.m.