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Thursday February 27, 2014 Young Gators to be tested with four games in four days

Updated: 4:03pm, February 27

Logan Shore

Freshman Logan Shore is one of the young pitchers Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan will rely on this season.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – They were competitive in the first two games of last weekend’s series at Miami, but all the Gators had to show for it was two L’s.

Head coach Kevin O’Sullivan wasn’t interested in a third.

“We told the players before the game, ‘the mark of a gritty team is to get out with a win, no matter how we do it,’ ” O’Sullivan said.

Three hours and seven pitchers later, the Gators had a W.

Kevin O'Sullivan

O’Sullivan wore sunglasses and a grin underneath the warm afternoon sun at Alex Rodriguez Park as he talked to reporters following Florida’s 6-4 win Sunday.

“You don’t want to put too much stock in any one game,’’ he said. “But it’s a good win. There’s a lot of things to build on.”

The Gators (5-3) will try to do exactly that over the next four days in a round-robin tournament at McKethan Stadium. The event marks the first regular-season home tournament for the Gators since O’Sullivan took over the program in 2008.

The Gators host Florida Gulf Coast and Illinois. Each team will play one another twice. The Gators face FGCU on Thursday and Saturday, and Illinois on Friday and Sunday.

Florida’s rotation during the four-game stretch is right-hander Logan Shore on Thursday, lefty Bobby Poyner on Friday, right-hander Karsten Whitson on Saturday, and lefty A.J. Puk is tabbed to make his first career start on Sunday. Puk got the first win of his career Sunday at Miami.

The Gators responded to O’Sullivan’s pregame challenge by scoring four runs in the first inning Sunday against the Hurricanes.

Making his second start since missing all of last season due to shoulder issues, Whitson allowed three hits and two runs in three innings. He walked one and struck out one, throwing 54 pitches.

“I felt pretty good,’’ said Whitson, a freshman All-American in 2011. “I think every time I’m able to get out on the mound, I feel a little more comfortable. I’m saying I felt better than I did last week, and this is a big win for us. The big thing is I have to command my fastball, first and foremost.”

In his first start of the season, Whitson threw 48 pitches over two innings in Florida’s 8-5 win over Maryland on Feb. 16.

O’Sullivan saw progress.

“He was OK,” O’Sullivan said. “His stuff was better. He’s still got to find the strike zone a little more. But as we said before the season, this is a work in progress. It’s been almost two years since he’s been out there. So we’ll continue to run him out there, and he’ll get better each time out.

“Obviously he needs to be good for us to be good, and he will. But to expect him to come out and throw seven shutout innings his second start after missing almost two years is unrealistic.”

Once Whitson was finished Sunday, Puk, Shore, Kirby Snead, Ryan Harris, Danny Young and Eric Hanhold all took turns on the mound.

Snead threw only two pitches to record an out, and Harris’ 31 pitches were the most by any of the relievers.

O’Sullivan said it was important to get the pitchers work early in the season.

“Our depth is our strength,’’ he said. “We’re young. We’re not nearly a finished product yet. We’ve got a lot of work to do, but I do like the fight we showed. Hopefully we look back down the road and say that’s what got us going.”

The Gators should know more about themselves after four games in four days.

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