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Thursday June 14, 2012Gators Notebook: Johnson To Start vs. Gamecocks; Rodriguez Recalls Unusual 2011 CWS Outing

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

OMAHA, Neb. -- Gators coach Kevin O'Sullivan looked at the numbers and Brian Johnson's numbers looked impressive.

O'Sullivan announced Thursday that the junior lefty will start against South Carolina on Saturday night in UF's first game of the College World Series. Hudson Randall, the team's regular Friday night starter, will start Game 2.

The numbers that worked in Johnson's favor: a 2-0 record, 2.40 ERA and .185 opponents batting average in two starts this season against the Gamecocks. Johnson won March 23 in Columbia and beat the Gamecocks on May 25 in the SEC Tournament.

Johnson allowed 10 hits, four runs, walked two and struck out nine in 15 innings over the two outings.

"Johnson has pitched really well his last four starts,'' O'Sullivan said. "He has been better with a little extra rest [over his career]. At some point he was going to pitch. Any further of a layoff probably wouldn't do him justice."

Johnson has not pitched since June 3 against Georgia Tech in the Gainesville Super Regional. Instead of a 15-day layoff between starts, O'Sullivan opted to send him to the mound Saturday rather than Monday in Florida's second game in Omaha.

"He was going to pitch one of the first two anyways,'' O'Sullivan said. "He pitched well against them. Every game is different. He is matched up with [Gamecocks starter] Michael Roth this time. He's obviously got to be on top of his game."

Johnson (8-4, 3.56 ERA) is 3-1 in his last four starts, including a complete-game win (9 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 0 BB, 5 SO) over South Carolina at the SEC Tournament.

Johnson is looking forward to the opportunity after not making a start in last year's CWS due to a concussion suffered in the 2011 SEC Tournament when he got hit in the head by a ball thrown by Gators catcher Mike Zunino.

Johnson's only appearance on the mound in Omaha last year came in the CWS Championship Series against the Gamecocks when he pitched an inning out of the bullpen. The Gators have made it to Omaha in every year of Johnson's career.

"It's a great feeling,'' said Johnson, selected in the first round of the MLB amateur draft by Boston earlier this month. "Not many people get to have this opportunity once in their life, and I've had an opportunity to experience it three times. I'm just grateful for the opportunity."

Johnson downplayed his recent success against South Carolina.

"I throw that out. Everyone is 0 and 0 here,'' he said. "The past is the past, so I really don't think about that factors into it all. I'm just glad to get the ball in Game 1 and I'm ready to go."

FACING ROTH: While Johnson's numbers against South Carolina this season are good, Roth's had his share of success against the Gators over his career.

The senior left-hander has pitched seven times against the Gators the past four seasons -- including three starts -- and is 2-0 with a 1.84 ERA. Roth limited the Gators to five hits and two runs in 7 2/3 innings in Game 2 of last year's CWS Championship Series.

"It comes down to making some plays and doing some things offensively because you are not going to get many opportunities against Roth,'' O'Sullivan said. "At some point you are going to have to go through Michael Roth. It's as simple as that.

"Like [facing] anybody else, you'll get an opportunity or two, but he's always made a good pitch. He just doesn't give you a whole lot. If you beat them, it's probably a low-scoring game."

PACO'S PLACE: Gators reliever Steven Rodriguez, nicknamed Paco by his teammates, is an in-your-face type pitcher. The instant he takes the mound he goes right at hitters regardless of the circumstances.

He did that against Vanderbilt in last year's CWS in one of the most memorable outings of his UF career -- for multiple reasons.

Rodriguez came into the game on a Monday night and finished the Commodores off on Tuesday morning after the game was halted due to a severe storm the previous night.

He pitched 4 1/3 scoreless and hitless innings over the two days, striking out a career-high seven. He retired 13 of 14 batters including the final eight and elevated his status as a prospect before a national TV audience. The Dodgers took Rodriguez in the third round of the draft earlier this month.

"It's been a great feeling to get back here,'' he said Thursday. "That's probably the one thing in my life I hadn't done before and hasn't happened since. That was just something that was extremely crazy due to the weather.

"I just came out aggressive like always and tried to get the job done."

CHANGE OF PLANS: The CWS Opening Ceremonies were canceled due to a severe thunderstorm that moved through Omaha on Thursday night.

Instead of participating in a pageantry filled night at TD Ameritrade Park, the teams gathered for a barbecue dinner at a nearby convention center.

QUOTE OF NOTE: "When I heard that Jeremy Foley hired Kevin, my response was 'dang.' Because I knew what was coming. He's excelled as a player. He's excelled as an assistant coach, and it doesn't get any better. His impact on the Gators is evident." -- South Carolina coach Ray Tanner on O'Sullivan.

EXTRA BASES

TD Ameritrade Park officials removed several decorative pine trees beyond the center-field wall to improve the batter's eye area for hitters since last year's CWS ... Former Gators softball player Jenn Brown is covering the CWS for the third consecutive year for ESPN. Check out GatorZone.com on Friday for a Q&A with Brown ... Gators closer Austin Maddox, who struggled in Sunday's 9-8 win over N.C. State and has not been as sharp of late, is working on his mechanics to keep the ball down lower in the strike zone ... The Gators gathered outside TD Ameritrade Park on Thursday afternoon for their official CWS photo in front of the "Road to Omaha" sculpture ... Stony Brook and Kent State, two teams not expected to be in Omaha, are both getting a significant amount of media coverage. Stony Brook perhaps more, but that's fine with Kent State coach Scott Stricklin. "We're getting all the love we need, trust me,'' Stricklin said. "I'm thrilled for Stony Brook. The thing I'm most thrilled about is they're in the other bracket." ... Former Gators right-hander John Burke is in Omaha this week coaching his son's baseball team. Burke, best-known at UF for his no-hitter against Furman in the 1991 NCAA Tournament, has purchased more than 30 tickets for Florida's game on Saturday ... The Gators are 4-6 in their last 10 games against South Carolina but have won three in a row since a 9-3 loss in Columbia on March 22.

 

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