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Friday, May 24, 2024

Pitching remains red flag in series loss to LSU

10 different pitchers were used across the second two games of the weekend series.

<p>The Gators fell in the second game of the weekend series against Mizzou Saturday, falling 5-3.</p>

The Gators fell in the second game of the weekend series against Mizzou Saturday, falling 5-3.

The Florida Gators potentially have one of the three best pitchers in the country on their roster. Working through 38 innings thus far, sophomore Hunter Barco has registered 52 strikeouts while allowing just 19 hits and six earned runs.

Barco is as close to a lock as you can hope for on Fridays. 

Pitching for the Gators on Saturdays and Sundays might as well be a mystery box, though, and that uncertainty will likely end up determining whether or not No. 8 Florida (17-7, 3-3) can hang with its SEC competition.

After two weekend blowouts from the No. 21 LSU Tigers (17-7, 3-3) at Florida Ballpark, including a 11-2 loss Sunday, the early returns are not promising. 

The Gators and Tigers combined for 29 runs through the opening two games of the series, but the well seemed to have run dry early on Sunday. Freshman Ryan Slater started on the mound for Florida, delivering three scoreless innings before the flood gates opened in the fourth. 

“You could tell [the Tigers] had a little extra pep in their step,” head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “We talked about it, that this is not gonna be easy today.”

Slater spotted LSU a runner by hitting leadoff batter, sophomore Jordan Thompson, with a pitch. Sophomore Brayden Jobert made Slater pay, delivering a two-run homer to open the scoring. The next batter was also hit by a pitch from Slater, the fourth and final HBP of his day, and the Tigers continued the inning with another two-run jack from sophomore Hayden Travinski that put the Bayou Bengals up four and nailed the coffin for Slater.

In his first career start, the Palm Harbor, Florida, native allowed four earned runs on four hits through 3.1 innings of work.

Following Slater was a rotating cast of Gator freshman pitchers who would be peppered with runs for the remainder of the game.

“There’s no excuses,” O’Sullivan said. “They’re talented enough, they’re just not making pitches.”

First was Nick Ficarrotta, who lasted just one inning. After cleaning up the fourth, a single and a hit-by-pitch was enough for O’Sullivan to pull the plug. 

In came Philip Abner, who also lasted one inning after giving up four earned runs. The Charlotte, North Carolina, native was promptly removed, and right-hander Brandon Neely took his place.

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Neely suffered three earned runs through 1.2 worked innings, delivering two strikeouts as well. 

The penultimate arm of the day, redshirt freshman Tyler Nesbitt, was one of the lone bright spots of the afternoon. Still recovering from Tommy John surgery, Nesbitt tossed one hitless frame while dealing two K’s. 

Freshman Blake Purnell delivered the final three outs in the ninth, allowing one hit but no runs.

Sunday’s disaster was eerily similar to Saturday's performance, where sophomore Brandon Sproat started on the mound but failed to get through three innings.

“Getting two starts that are three innings is not gonna work,” O’Sullivan said. “We’re gonna need some strike throwers to start games.”

In both games, the Gators put forth six different arms on the rubber, a total that speaks to the uncertainty that still surrounds Florida’s pitching staff. After Barco, none of the pitchers used have taken hold of a consistent role.

O’Sullivan, who has built a resume of producing MLB-bound pitchers in Gainesville, is entering unfamiliar territory as he continues to look for answers in his rotation.

“I don’t remember in my career here at Florida having two back-to-back losses like that,” O’Sullivan said.

While the panic button shouldn't be on Gator fans’ minds just yet, as Nesbitt slowly returns to full health and the young pitchers gain experience, the start to SEC play certainly won’t put fans at ease. 

The Gators return to action Tuesday night in Duval County, taking on the No. 7 Florida State Seminoles at a neutral site at 7 p.m. Next weekend, Florida will return to conference action and travel to Athens, Georgia, for a series against the No. 17 Georgia Bulldogs.

Contact Carson Cashion at Follow him on Twitter @CarsonCashion.

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Carson Cashion

Carson Cashion is a third-year sports journalism major at UF, and the sports editor at The Alligator for the 2022 summer semester. A native of Altamonte Springs, Carson spends his free time walking his dog, Baxter, and listening to good music. He is an avid Tennessee sports fan, and eagerly awaits watching one of his teams win a championship for the first time.

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