GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Alex Faedo hadn’t been his sharpest in his last two starts for Florida, but the junior ace didn’t seem concerned in the least about that.
He said earlier this week that he felt he’s given his team a chance to win all season and he simply hoped to keep doing that.
And Thursday night, Faedo was the reason the Gators won.
He went 8 2/3 scoreless innings in No. 12 Florida’s 1-0 win over No. 24 South Carolina, allowing only 3 hits and 4 walks while racking up 9 strikeouts in the series opener at McKethan Stadium.
It was a showdown of top pitching prospects as a collection of MLB scouts showed up to watch Faedo square off against South Carolina’s Clarke Schmidt, who came in ranked third in the SEC with a 1.31 ERA.
Both junior right-handers were terrific, but Faedo was just a little better this time for the Gators (26-12, 9-7 SEC).
“The scouts don’t really mean anything. I mean, they come to practice every practice so that’s a non-factor anymore. But facing Schmidt, I knew it was going to be a close game,” Faedo said. “Every run counts there. … He kept me in a good groove going back and forth, quick zeros, quick zeros.”
Schmidt (4-2) gave up just the 1 run on 4 hits and 3 walks with 2 strikeouts over 5 1/3 innings before leaving with right forearm soreness. Both Faedo and Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan expressed concern for Schmidt after the game while discussing the marquee mound matchup.
“I think (Alex’s) performance kind of speaks for itself. He was outstanding and he had to be against Clarke,” O’Sullivan said. “First off, I don’t know what exactly happened with Clarke. I hope he’s OK. But Alex was great, pitched around a couple situations where he needed to, and he needed to be that way because Clarke was that good. And we knew going in that this was going to be a low-scoring game.”
Faedo (6-1) had given up 6 runs (5 earned) on 10 hits over 5 2/3 innings two weeks ago against Tennessee and then wasn’t helped by his defense last week at Vanderbilt while giving up 6 runs (2 earned) on 7 hits and a walk over 6 innings.
But Faedo has proven himself as a big-game pitcher already this season — throwing 7 scoreless innings in a 1-0 win over LSU and fellow top prospect Alex Lange — and he would do so again Thursday night.
He struck out the first 2 batters of the game in a perfect first inning, worked around a 2-out walk in the second with an inning-ending strikeout and overcame a leadoff single in the third with 2 strikeouts and a fly out.
“He’s ultra competitive,” Florida shortstop Dalton Guthrie said of Faedo. “And I don’t think it’s the scouts; I think it’s just going up against a guy like Schmidt. He’s really good and it’s obviously why he gets the attention he does, so for (Alex) to do what he did tonight, rise to the occasion, that’s what you need from your ace and that’s why he’s one of the best.”
South Carolina (23-14, 8-8) had its best chance to score in the fifth after Madison Stokes’ leadoff double to right-center. He’d make it to third base after a pair of groundouts, but Guthrie hauled in Jacob Olson’s short blooper for the final out of that frame.
The next jam came in the seventh when first baseman JJ Schwarz misplayed a soft chopper down the line, leaving runners on first and second with 2 outs. But Faedo got Danny Blair to ground out to second to escape that situation as well.
He was effectively working his fastballs to both sides of the plate all night, locating inside against righties to set up his devastating slider on the outside, and throwing a good change-up to lefties.
O’Sullivan gave Faedo a chance to close it out before finally pulling him after a 2-out walk in the ninth. He had thrown a career-high 125 pitches while doing his part in a 1-0 win for the third time this season. He had also gone 8 2/3 scoreless in a 1-0 win over Miami, in addition to that gem vs. LSU.
Michael Byrne quickly got Stokes to fly out to center to end it for his seventh save.
“I thought I still had a shot because the righty was up and I feel like whenever there’s a righty up in a big situation I’m good, but Sully does know best,” Faedo said. “He hasn’t messed up on that, and Byrne’s always doing a good job picking us up so I wasn’t mad at Sully or any of that. I was just mad at myself for not getting Destino out in the end.”
A 2-out walk in 9th ends Alex Faedo's night. He gave up 3 hits and 4 BBs over 8.2 scoreless w/ 9 Ks. Leaves up 1-0. pic.twitter.com/H9OGOsPgl9
— Ryan Young (@RyanYoungSEC) April 21, 2017
Florida’s lone run came in the bottom of the fifth when Christian Hicks smacked a 2-out double off the wall to left and Keenan Bell drove him home with a single up the middle.
That’s all the Gators would get and all they would need.
— Ryan Young (@RyanYoungSEC) April 21, 2017
Bell finished 2-for-3 and Guthrie was 2-for-4 to lead the Gators offensively.
Florida has now won 6 of its last 7 games while the Gamecocks continue their recent struggles after losing their last three SEC series.
“It was just a heck of a ballgame. It was just another Friday night (type) game in this league,” O’Sullivan said. “I was talking to (South Carolina coach Chad Holbrook) before the game. It’s just amazing, people get frustrated by the offense, but the pitching is so good in this league. It just seems like every Friday night you’re facing guys who are going to be potential big leaguers. It’s gotten that much better, and runs are hard to come by.
“When you have opportunities to score, you’ve got to have your best at-bats and we scored with 2 outs and nobody on. … I thought we did a nice job. Even though the score was 1-0, I thought our at-bats were good against a really good pitcher.”