GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – If you want to see Hudson Randall get mad, good luck.
The tall red head from the Atlanta area is a pretty laid-back guy. While many young pitchers grip the baseball and try to throw it through a wall, not Randall.
He treats pitching more like a game of darts.
“You ask any hitter, they would rather hit a 95-mph fastball that is straight rather than something that is moving or that keeps them off balance,’’ Randall said. “My whole thing is just interrupting their timing.’’
Randall has done his thing rather well of late.
He has already been named SEC Pitcher of the Week twice, the first time a UF pitcher has accomplished that in the same season since Johnny Wiggs won the award three times 23 years ago.
If there is one thing that gets under Randall’s skin, it’s ball four.
Flash back to a week ago in his home state. The Gators opened a series at Georgia with Randall as the Friday night starter, a role he moved into earlier this month. During his time at Dunwoody High near Atlanta, Randall imagined making many Friday night starts in Athens.
He imagined a strong contingent of family and friends in the stands at Foley Field exactly the way they were on Friday. He imagined earning a tone-setting win to open a weekend series, which also happened a week ago. He didn’t necessarily imagine pitching for the Gators.
And he certainly didn’t imagine walking Bulldogs first baseman Jonathan Hester on a 3-2 pitch in the seventh inning. That made Randall’s face match his hair color.
“That’s worse to me than giving up a home run,’’ Randall said. “You are just letting them on base with a free pass. They are not earning it or anything.’’
While his attitude toward walks will never change, Randall’s college choice did late in high school after some serious discussions with Gators coach Kevin O’Sullivan – a former catcher at Virginia – about the art of pitching.
Instead of going to Georgia as most of his family and friends expected, he became a Gator. A 6-foot-3, 185-pound lanky sophomore, Randall and his right arm haven’t looked back. He moved into the Gators’ No. 1 starter’s spot on April 1 and makes his fourth start in that role against Alabama tonight at McKethan Stadium.
In his first Friday night start – a 3-0 home win over Tennessee – here was Randall’s pitching line: 9 innings, 4 hits, 0 runs, 0 walks, 4 strikeouts. That’s impressive, but even more impressive is that it took him only 74 pitches to send the Volunteers back to their hotel wondering if they actually played nine innings.
Randall had never pitched a nine-inning complete game, not even in high school since the games went seven innings.
“I surprised myself with that game,’’ he said. “Every pitch I threw I felt like it went right where I wanted it to, whether it was a fastball or off-speed. They were helping me out a good bit. I couldn’t believe they kept swinging at the first pitch, so I just kept throwing strikes.’’
Randall’s since he stepped onto campus has been to move into that Friday night spot in the rotation. He didn’t hurt his cause as a freshman when he started 17 games and proved ready for the jump in competition, going 8-4 with a 3.24 ERA.
Still, Randall opened the season behind left-hander Brian Johnson in Florida’s talented rotation. That didn’t change his approach, though, as he got off to a great start by keeping hitters guessing with his slider – what he calls his out pitch – and his change-up, which is his favorite pitch to throw. He also mixes in an improved curveball that he worked hard in the offseason on.
“Coming in, I kind of wanted to make myself known as the No. 1 guy on the staff,’’ he said. “I was shooting for that Friday night spot. It’s a game where you kind of get the emotion going for the weekend and get to start off on the right foot, get things going the right way.
“I like that responsibility.’’
Randall has clearly adjusted to the role, continuing one of the best seasons by any pitcher in the SEC. He entered Friday’s start against Alabama with a 6-1 record and 1.70 ERA. Perhaps even more impressive is that Randall has walked only two batters in 58.1 innings. He has also surrendered just 49 hits while striking out 32.
He gets batters out in the same fashion as the pitcher he admired most growing up: former Braves star and four-time Cy Young winner Greg Maddux. When he got a chance growing up, Randall often watched Maddux pitch on TV or made the short trip to Turner Field to watch Maddux in person.
Unlike many young pitchers his age, Randall studied Maddux and his approach. He tried to use some of the same principles in his approach once he started to develop into a top college pitching prospect in high school and packed the same mentality when he left for college.
“I started noticing how the batters were standing, where their hands were, where their holes were, and just got a good feel on how to pitch to different kind of batters,’’ Randall said. “A lot of kids are still trying to throw hard, but the earlier you can find kids who realize how to pitch instead of just throw, I think the better they become.
“My main goal is that I pitch to contact. I don’t look for the swing-and-miss or the strikeout.’’
And another goal is to never walk a batter. So far this season, he is averaging a walk a month, so he can live with that.
Like Maddux, Randall understands his strengths: location and movement. If those two are working for him, the chances of you seeing him turn red on the mound are little to none.
“You know how some people just have God-given arms, I think I’ve just got God-given control – put the ball where I want to,’’ he said. “I can definitely tell when it’s pinpoint, when I can throw it exactly where I want it.
“Sometimes it’s a little scattered, but I feel like I can always keep it around the strike zone.’’
Two walks in two months prove that.