CORAL GABLES — Karsten Whitson is the perfect pitcher for this young Florida team — both are works in progress.
No. 23 Florida (5-3) took a step forward on Sunday, salvaging its road series against No. 16 Miami (4-3) with a 6-4 victory Sunday afternoon at Mark Light Field.
Whitson went three innings, and six other pitchers followed, including three freshman getting action on the road.
“We’re young. We’re not nearly a finished product yet.,” coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “We got a lot of work to do. I do like the fight we showed today. This is one game. Hopefully, we look back down the road and say that kind of got us going.”
O’Sullivan knew it wouldn’t be easy while watching former ninth-round pick Andrew Suarez warm up in the right-field bullpen. He and his assistant coaches thought one thing seeing his knee-high locations and four quality pitches: This guy is a big leaguer.
The Toronto Blue Jays selected Suarez in 2011 — a year after Whitson went ninth overall to the San Diego Padres. With a who’s who of scouts on hand, the Gators’ redshirt junior tossed 30 of his 54 pitches for strikes.
His fastball touched 92 mph, but he never looked comfortable with his slider, which carried him to a freshman All-American season in 2011.
This marked his second start since returning from his Spring 2013 season-ending shoulder surgery. He went two innings against Maryland a week ago.
Whitson feels like his arm strength is back. The next step is improving command, which troubled him on Sunday.
“Missing some time you’re going to be a little rusty,” Whitson said. “You’ve got to go. You got to keep going and get better everyday.”
Florida gradually improved from Game 1 to Game 3.
Suarez, who missed all of 2012 with shoulder surgery, allowed six runs, four earned, over seven innings. The Gators tagged Suarez right from the early afternoon start, plating four runs on six hits — three singles, two doubles and a triple in the first inning.
Led by Richie Martin’s two base hits, including a leadoff double down the right-field line, the Gators attacked Suarez in the first. Florida added two unearned runs in the fourth inning off two Miami throwing errors by third baseman David Thompson and catcher Garrett Kennedy.
The Hurricanes’ defense did it in on Sunday and could have given them issues in the rest of the series had they not hit six home runs during the weekend.
Florida showed more discipline in the field, committing only one error in the three games.
O’Sullivan and Co. found a way in the finale — even if it meant throwing the kitchen sink at the Hurricanes. O’Sullivan needed seven pitchers, four first-inning runs, two Miami errors and three different arms in the ninth inning.
“We were going to empty everybody. That’s one of our strengths,” O’Sullivan said.
“We told the players before the game, the mark of a gritty team is to get out with a win no matter how we got to do it.”
Follow Adam Pincus on Twitter @adamDpincus
Richie Martin hits during Florida’s 9-7 loss against Maryland on Feb. 15 at McKethan Stadium. Martin went 3-for-3 at the plate and scored three runs in UF's 8-2 win against USF on Tuesday.