It looked like Jonathon Crawford had brought his best stuff on Friday night.
The Gators’ No. 1 starter retired the first four batters he faced on just nine pitches and looked like he was poised for one of his dominant outings.
Then, his command abandoned him.
The junior right-hander was unable to make it out of the fifth inning as Florida (27-24, 12-13 Southeastern Conference) lost its series opener at McKethan Stadium, 7-4, to Auburn (30-19, 10-15 SEC).
“He started out really strong,” catcher Taylor Gushue said of Crawford. “You know, was aggressive. Then got kind of unaggressive. You know, just started feeling for it instead of rearing back and firing.”
After his strong start, Crawford gave up a one-out single to shortstop Dan Glevenyak in the second, picked him off at first but then walked second baseman Jordan Ebert and allowed a bunt single to center fielder Ryan Tella.
Crawford got out of the second unscathed, but the same part of the order got to him in the fourth as he allowed a two-out single to Glevenyak and walked Ebert again. Tella took a 2-2 pitch over the right field wall to give Auburn a 3-0 lead.
“Jonathon didn’t command his fastball as well as he had in the past,” coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “Credit Auburn’s hitters, they put some good swings together.”
It was Crawford’s third start this season in which he failed to make it to the sixth inning and his fifth start in which he gave up four or more earned runs.
“Bottom line is we just have to command pitches and throw the ball as close as you can to the mitt and good things will happen,” O’Sullivan said.
Crawford walked Tigers’ leadoff hitter Hunter Kelley to lead off the fifth and was replaced with freshman left-hander Parker Danciu. O’Sullivan replaced Danciu with Aaron Rhodes after Danciu retired one batter. Rhodes walked first baseman Garrett Cooper and gave up a two-run double to Glevenyak two batters later to extend the lead to 6-0.
Florida threatened in the bottom of the seventh as designated hitter Zack Powers hit a ground ball to short, and Glevenyak’s throw sailed past first baseman Garrett Cooper and Powers advanced to second. Two batters later, third baseman Josh Tobias singled to left to move Powers to third, and Powers scored on a Harrison Bader single to center.
Brady Roberson pinch hit for Cody Dent and singled to right to load the bases for fellow freshman Richie Martin, who drew a walk on a full count to score Tobias and make it 6-2.
“We chased out of the zone and missed some pitches,” Ramjit said. “They capitalized on it.”
Auburn coach John Pawlowski pulled starter Connor Kendrick and replaced him with right-handed reliever Trey Cochran-Gill to face Casey Turgeon. The Gators’ sophomore second baseman hit a sacrifice fly to left to plate Bader and cut the deficit to three. Gushue followed with an infield single up the middle to score pinch runner Christian Dicks, but the rally ended as Justin Shafer struck out swinging.
A win Friday would have helped solidify the Gators’ NCAA Tournament chances. In order to ensure a spot in the field, Florida will need help from Crawford in its last regular season series next weekend and in the SEC Tournament. Crawford’s last quality start was a month ago as he gave up two runs in 6.2 innings against South Carolina in a 3-2 win.
Despite the inconsistency, Gushue expressed confidence the Gators’ ace would turn things around — citing his performance with team USA’s College National Team last summer.
“He beat Cuba,” Gushue said. “So he can beat anybody.”
Contact Josh Jurnovoy at email@example.com.
Junior starting pitcher Jonathon Crawford warms up on the mound during Florida’s 3-2 victory against South Carolina on April 11 at McKethan Stadium. Crawford gave up four runs in four innings against Auburn on Friday.