Gators Knock Off Ziomek, Vanderbilt

Taylor Gushue

Taylor Gushue (photo by Tony Farlow)

NASHVILLE—When I booked my travel plans for this weekend a month or two ago, I expected to catch a matchup between potential first-rounders tonight in Nashville, with Florida junior righthander Jonathon Crawford taking on Vanderbilt junior lefty Kevin Ziomek. That didn’t materialize, as Crawford struggled out of the gate and got moved back to the No. 2 starter role last week, but freshman righthander Jay Carmichael has given the Gators a lift over the last two Friday nights.

Carmichael didn’t have his best breaking ball command Friday, but he competed hard with an 87-88 fastball and a good changeup, and he outpitched the previously red-hot Ziomek. Carmichael (5 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 3 K) combined with freshman lefty Danny Young and hard-throwing righty Ryan Harris on a three-hitter, as the Gators earned a much-needed 7-1 win against Ziomek and the Commodores.

Ziomek, who had been utterly dominant through his first five starts this season, breezed through four hitless innings before his command faltered in the middle innings. He issued four walks in the fifth inning, allowing one run on Zack Powers’ RBI single to left field before stranding the bases loaded. But the Gators broke a 1-1 tie with three runs in the sixth on Taylor Gushue’s three-run homer to left field on a fat 91 mph fastball.

“I was just tying to be aggressive,” said Gushue, who busted out of a 2-for-17 slump by going 2-for-3 with a walk. “The first two pitches were changeups, and I was a little out front of both of them. Then he threw a fastball up, and I was a little worried that he was going to come back with offspeed, but I just stayed on the fastball. That’s basically what the approach has to be–you have to stay on the fastball.”

Ziomek struggled to miss bats, finishing with five walks and just one strikeout. His 76-78 mph breaking ball was inconsistent, but his spotty command of his 88-92 heater is what got him into trouble in the fifth and sixth innings.

“I think (our approach) was just trying to be aggressive,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “(Ziomek’s) a guy who’s used to going nine innings, and there’s no sense in waiting around. We wanted to be on the fastball and just be on time. He threw the ball really good for the first four or five innings, left a ball up here and there.”

The Gators are still below .500 overall at 11-12, and their upcoming schedule doesn’t offer any respite, with series against Mississippi, Mississippi State and South Carolina over the next three weekends. Injuries have taken their toll; the Gators lost Karsten Whitson before the season began and have lost righthander Keenan Kish and lefty Corey Stump for the remainder of the season in recent weeks. Shortstop and catalyst Richie Martin is out of the lineup for the third straight weekend with a broken right index finger, though he is getting closer to a return.

Florida will miss Kish and Stump, who were expected to be key pieces of its pitching staff. But the Gators still have plenty of quality arms, as they showed Friday. Young has a bright future, and he complemented his 88-90 fastball with a quality 79-80 slider in his 1 1/3 innings of relief Friday. Harris has a huge arm, and he worked at 92-94 mph and touched 95 Friday, mixing in a solid 79-81 slider.

The Gators have beaten very talented lefthanders on back-to-back Fridays—last week they beat Kentucky’s A.J. Reed in the series opener, before losing consecutive games to drop the series. Florida’s dugout was very energetic tonight, and that energy level carried over onto the field. The Gators may face an uphill battle to get back to a regional out of the rugged SEC, but they have made it clear they aren’t going to roll over.

“We’ve been battling. We’ve lost some really tough ballgames,” O’Sullivan said. “We knew early on that we were not playing our best baseball. But our focus was we can’t do anything about what’s already happened. What we can do is try to work hard, stay together, and take it one day at a time. It’s a really difficult season, we’ve played a very difficult schedule, and we’ve got a lot of tough games ahead of us. We’ll continue to fight, we’ll continue to work hard and work to get better each and every day.”