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Wednesday February 13, 2013 Gators freshman Simpson moves into rotation with Whitson sidelined

Updated: 8:55am, April 18

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – At 6-foot-6, 220 pounds, Gators freshman right-hander Tucker Simpson will stand out when he makes his collegiate debut on Saturday against Duke.

“He’s huge,’’ Florida second baseman Casey Turgeon said Wednesday.

Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan announced Wednesday that junior right-hander Karsten Whitson, the projected No. 2 starter, will be sidelined to start the season due to shoulder fatigue.

Tucker Simpson

O’Sullivan said there is no timetable for Whitson’s return and that he is comfortable with sliding Simpson, the Class 6A Alabama Player of the Year last season at Oxford High, into Whitson’s spot in the rotation.

“He’s very competitive and he’s pitched in some big games,’’ O’Sullivan said. “He’s been a guy that’s been on the national scene for quite some time. He’s certainly ready for this challenge.”

Simpson went 9-3 with a 1.89 ERA a year ago and struck out 149 in 83 innings. He capped his prep career ranked as the No. 1 prep right-hander in the state by Perfect Game. His brother, Trent Simpson, recently signed a football scholarship at Mississippi State.

Simpson (photo, above) led Oxford to a state championship and in 2011 he participated in the Perfect Game All-American Classic at PETCO Park, home of the San Diego Padres.

Sophomore catcher Tyler Gushue said that while Whitson will be missed, he believes the Gators can overcome the loss of San Diego’s first-round pick in the 2010 MLB draft.

“Karsten Whitson is an awesome pitcher, but our younger guys are definitely going to have to step up,’’ Gushue said. “I’m not worried about it. Karsten obviously has a lot of talent, but I think our team is good enough to handle it and take it in stride.”

With the season opener two days away, O’Sullivan said junior Jonathon Crawford will start Friday’s opener, Simpson on Saturday followed by right-hander Justin Shafer on Sunday.

Simpson pitched well in the fall and preseason camp according to O’Sullivan.

“He’s throwing strikes,’’ he said. “He’s got great downhill [movement] to his ball. For a young pitcher, he’s got a great feel for the strike zone. He throws four pitches for strike.”

Besides a fastball, Simpson throws a curve, slider and change-up.

Meanwhile, Whitson’s status remains uncertain. After going 8-1 with a 2.40 ERA as a true freshman in 2011, Whitson pitched only 33.1 innings as a sophomore due to arm fatigue and other ailments.

It became apparent to O’Sullivan recently that Whitson would not be ready to start the season.

“We knew there was a possibility that he might not pitch the first two weekends,’’ O’Sullivan said. “We were kind of prepared. It hasn’t really changed a whole lot in regard to this weekend. He’s disappointed. I think anybody in his shoes would be disappointed, but we’re still staying optimistic.”

The Gators open the 2013 season Friday night at 7 on Sun Sports.

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