Three Strikes: Week Five

Strike One: Gators Prove Even Better Than Expected

Coming into the season, Florida looked like the team to beat in college baseball. The Gators earned the No. 1 spot in Baseball America's preseason Top 25, and coach Kevin O'Sulivan knew his team would be good. But his team's 18-2 start—which was punctuated with a midweek win against Florida State last week and a series sweep at Louisiana State this weekend—was beyond even O'Sullivan's expectations.

"If you'd have told me before the season started that we'd be 18-2 with the schedule we've played, I'd have said, 'No way,' " O'Sullivan said. "But the fact of the matter is, we won two one-run games (this weekend at LSU). Either one of those games could have gone either way. I think our pitching depth probably showed up yesterday in the 7-3 win . . . I told my guys to enjoy it. You don't go into LSU often and win a series, or get the opportunity to sweep them."

Florida's pitching staff figured to be one of the deepest in the nation, but the emergence of sophomore righthander Austin Maddox in the bullpen has made the Gators even better on the mound than expected—and who would have thought that was possible, given the outsized expectations? Maddox threw 4 1/3 shutout innings in relief of Karsten Whitson on Sunday, allowing just two hits and no walks while striking out three.

"He's 92-95, it's heavy, it's three pitches for strikes," O'Sullivan said. "With LSU's lineup being so dominant righthanded, we'd used (righties Anthony) DeSclafani and (Tommy) Toledo on Friday, we used (Greg) Larson and (Nick) Maronde on Saturday, so we were thinking, if we need a guy to bridge the gap if Whitson only goes five, we were just trying to get two innings from Maddox, then go to DeSclafani. But he went 4 1/3 and only threw 43 pitches."

Maddox is 1-0, 1.12 with 10 strikeouts and no walks through eight innings over five relief appearances this year. Maddox had two premium tools coming out of high school: well-above-average power and a well-above-average arm. He earned freshman All-America honors as a slugging corner infielder last year, when the Gators did not use him at all on the mound. But it became clear in the fall that Maddox would also be a major piece in the bullpen as a sophomore.

"We were very cautious with him last year because he was asked to do a lot of things—play first, play third, catch—and we didn't really want to add (pitching) to his plate," O'Sullivan said. "And he really enjoys hitting. The two-way thing comes really easy to him. You can't do full-time on both—one of the two has to come very easy. For him the pitching thing comes easy. He fields his position, he throws strikes, just keeps it simple and attacks."

The other reason Florida is even better than expected is the emergence of outfielder Daniel Pigott as a junior. Pigott is hitting .431/.453/.625, leading the team in batting, slugging, doubles (11) and RBIs (19). He delivered a game-tying two-run single and then the game-winning RBI single last week against Florida State, and he provided all the scoring against LSU on Saturday with a first-inning RBI double.

"When we recruited him, we knew he was going to be offensive," O'Sullivan said. "But he's got strength and he's got speed—two things that are very hard to find in a hitter. He's an above-average runner, he's got strength in his hands and forearms. He's handled the new bat probably as well as anybody we have. He stays within himself, he's very aggressive. He got off to a good start and just hasn't stopped, I don't know how to explain it. It's been a pleasant surprise. Sometimes with guys, their freshman year they're OK, their sophomore year they're a little better, then all of a sudden the light goes on their junior year."

Florida's armor was already without chinks, but the emergence of Maddox in the bullpen and Pigott as an offensive force has cemented the Gators as the team to beat in college baseball.

Strike Two: Meo Pitches Well, But Pepperdine Shuts Down Coastal

MALIBU, Calif.—Pepperdine entered the weekend against Coastal Carolina on a four-game losing streak, and with a 6-10 record overall. The Chanticleers, meanwhile, were riding a four-game winning streak, including a pair of midweek wins at San Diego, and were 13-5 overall.

Their fortunes reversed in a hurry. The Waves held the Chanticleers to three runs in three games to sweep the series. The tone was set Friday, when Pepperdine junior righthander Jon Moscot out-dueled Coastal All-American Anthony Meo, then went on to win 2-1 in 11 innings.

"I'll tell you what: Our record doesn't show it, but we've been improving on a pretty regular basis," Pepperdine coach Steve Rodriguez said after Friday's win. "We've been hitting the ball well, our guys have been working hard. It's definitely not for a lack of effort or a lack of talent. When our hitting is there, our pitching will falter, and the other way around. I told our guys after the game that I think that may have been some of the best baseball we've played. They kept competing, and we put ourselves in position to score several times. Meo's a tough pitcher to play against, and we did a pretty good job against him."

The Waves put runners on base in each of the first eight innings against Meo, but the junior righthander continually made big pitches to escape jams. He showed overpowering stuff, sitting in the 94-96 mph range with his fastball throughout his outing and getting outs with his wicked 88-90 mph slider. He also mixed in a newly developed power curveball at 84-86 and an occasional changeup that ran away from lefthanded hitters. He worked around seven hits and four walks, allowing just an unearned run in 7 2/3 innings while striking out five.

"I felt like my command was a little shaky, but I felt like my stuff was there, and I had to battle out there pretty much every inning," Meo said. "I started throwing a curveball this year, and a changeup as well. I used to throw just fastball-slider, but I'm learning to be a pitcher and throw all four."

Meo did tend to leave his fastball up in the zone a bit, particularly early in his outing, but his slider was a difference-maker.

"That's a good slider—that's going to get a lot of people out," a National League scout said. "The fastball command's a little concerning; big-time dudes are going to lay off the high ones. But there's not a lot of dudes running around with this kind of power arm."

Coastal coach Gary Gilmore pointed out that his team's struggles certainly have nothing to do with Meo, who has pitched well since California shellacked him for nine runs on Feb. 25. Gilmore credited Moscot with shutting down the Coastal offense. The junior-college transfer allowed just one run on two hits and four walks over 8 1/3 innings, striking out eight. Moscot spotted his 88-89 fastball well and got plenty of swings and misses with his 78-80 slider.

"He's been really consistent like that," Rodriguez said of Moscot. "He has been a really good addition to our staff, and we're really excited to have him. He's probably exceeded our expectations for him. With the competitiveness, the composure he shows—he's going to be a good one. It's amazing what happens when he keeps the ball down."

Matt Maurer and Aaron Gates followed with strong outings in Saturday's doubleheader sweep, holding Coastal to just two runs over 15 innings. The Chanticleers are hitting just .230 as a team, as senior Scott Woodward (.319) is the only regular with an average over .300.

"I know what it is—it's not the bats," Gilmore said of his team's offensive woes. "Those bats aren't near as bad—it's the kids using them. They've gotten used to the equipment doing it for them, now they've got to do it. We've got to get better. Our approaches, things like that, have got to be way better.

"College pitchers are figuring out, 'That bat's dead, so I can pitch on the outer half and you can't dive over with that explosive bat and yank me somewhere.' So it's an eye-opener for the hitters. Occasionally we've had days like (Friday), where we didn't have one guy in the lineup make an adjustment. That's on our kids and myself and our staff—we've had three or four games like that, where it's the same pattern every single time, and we haven't done anything."

Strike Three: Golden Spikes Spotlight On Sam Gaviglio

LONG BEACH—Sam Gaviglio had some impressive performances for Oregon State as a freshman in 2009, when he went 10-1, 2.73. But the righthander had the finest outing of his career Friday at Long Beach State, taking a perfect game into the eighth inning and finishing with a one-hit, complete-game shutout in the Beavers' 4-0 win. Gaviglio did not issue a walk and struck out 14, the most by a Beaver pitcher in a decade. He struck out the side in the first and third innings. After Mike Marjama singled to lead off the eighth and spoil the no-hitter, Gaviglio went back to work and retired the final six hitters of the game.

"It was the best I've ever seen him," OSU coach Pat Casey said. "It was phenomenal—he threw it right where he wanted all day long."

"I felt like I had good command of the fastball, and that's where it started," Gaviglio added.

Gaviglio has been untouchable as a junior, going 4-0, 0.00 with 40 strikeouts and four walks through five starts. He allowed two unearned runs in the first inning of his first game, but since then he has thrown 38 consecutive scoreless innings. For the record, Tennessee's Todd Helton owns the longest single-season scoreless streak in Division I history (47 innings in 1994), while Vermont's George Plender holds the all-time record (63 innings from 1954-55).

"It's really impressive. I don't know if I've seen a guy go that long and sustain it," Casey said of Gaviglio's dominance. "He's just absolutely in a groove, throwing to both sides of the pltae, throwing three pitches for strikes in any count. That confidence is just hanging over him. He's healthy; last year he had that hamstring a little bit, kind of got off to a slow start, so we kept him in the summer time and worked on getting him stronger."

Gaviglio said the hamstring injury caused his delivery to be out of whack when he returned to action last spring, and he never quite found his rhythm, finishing the year 3-4, 5.60. But now he's back to his freshman year form.

"I'd say I'm better than I was my freshman year," he said. "Mentally I've improved a lot; I have a better idea what I'm doing out there."

Gaviglio doesn't blow hitters away with premium velocity, but his fastball is plenty firm at 89-91 mph, and it has excellent sink and run. Casey and Gaviglio agreed that his changeup and slider are equally effective secondary offerings, and he mixes in a curveball, as well.

"I feel like it's all working pretty well right now," Gaviglio said.