Florida freshman Jay Carmichael is expected to be available for this week's three-game series at LSU.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The Gators baseball team is safely back in the postseason conversation.
A few weeks ago, Florida was 11-16 and on the outside looking in. And then a 14-4 surge changed the outlook tremendously.
In its latest College Stock Report, Baseball America projects Florida as one of eight SEC teams safely in the NCAA Tournament as of now. Alabama is on the bubble.
With 11 regular-season games left, the Gators (25-20, 12-9 in SEC) open a three-game series at LSU on Thursday night (ESPNU, 7:30). The Tigers, ranked third in the latest Baseball America poll, improved to 40-6 Tuesday with a 7-3 win over McNeese State.
No trip to Baton Rouge’s Alex Box Stadium is ever easy – with or without a set starting rotation.
While the SEC-West leading Tigers’ staff ERA (2.43) is ranked fifth in the country, Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan left town Wednesday still trying to figure out his rotation for the series.
“There’s just a lot of uncertainty with who we start,” O’Sullivan said. “I do know this -- a lot of these young guys will get experience down there on Thursday and Friday. We’re not going to ask anyone to go nine innings.”
The rotation’s uncertainty has been a season-long dilemma for the Gators, who lost projected No. 2 starter Karsten Whitson to injury prior to the season, and then right-hander Keenan Kish after only two starts.
Overall, O’Sullivan has handed the ball to 10 starting pitchers, three more than the Gators used all of last season.
The good news for the Gators is that it appears freshman right-hander Jay Carmichael (3-1, 2.60 ERA) could return to the mound at LSU. Carmichael pitched in 13 games – including four starts – before arm fatigue forced him to take some time off.
O’Sullivan said Carmichael pitched an inning in Tuesday’s intrasquad scrimmage.
“I think his arm feels fine,” O’Sullivan said. “I think he’s ready to go.”
In 34 2/3 innings, Carmichael has allowed 22 hits, walked 15 and struck out 23. He has limited opponents to a staff-best .190 batting average.
Meanwhile, left-hander Danny Young, who has made six starts, is unlikely to get a start at LSU.
“I don’t feel good starting him,’’ O’Sullivan said. “He probably needs to get his feet wet again.”
Young was hit in the face by a line drive in his start Friday against Tennessee and needed more than 30 stitches to repair a cut around his mouth.
Crawford is expected to start one of the games in Baton Rouge and don’t be surprised if lefty Bobby Poyner takes another turn in the rotation. Poyner pitched well in Sunday’s 4-2 home loss to Tennessee in his first SEC start and fourth overall.
While the rotation remained unsettled as the Gators departed for LSU, expect to see plenty of Gators throwing pitches during the three-game series. The Tigers not only pitch well, but their .305 team batting average ranks second in the league only behind Vanderbilt’s .314 clip.
“If it’s a two-inning stint, a three-inning stint -- they’ve just got to go out there and throw strikes and let us play defense,” O’Sullivan said. “That’s the bottom line. We’re going to have a lot of guys contributing.”