GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan had chuckled earlier in the week at the question.
Would he say anything to ace Brady Singer about managing a ballpark full of scouts and the college baseball spotlight for his duel with Auburn’s Casey Mize, a fellow projected high first-round draft pick.
Singer didn’t need any advice or perspective, O’Sullivan assured. Indeed not.
With 61 scouts in attendance at McKethan Stadium on Thursday night, Singer gave up just 1 run over seven innings while leading the No. 1 Gators to a 3-1 win over Auburn.
The junior right-hander rarely ran into trouble while striking out 8 and allowing 4 hits and 2 walks before begrudgingly giving way to the bullpen after 108 pitches. He improved to 9-1 with the win and lowered his ERA to 2.62.
Mize (8-2) was pretty impressive in his own right, but Jonathan India’s 2-run home run in the bottom of the first inning proved to be the difference. The Tigers’ junior righty would settle down from there while racking up 10 strikeouts and yielding only 3 hits, 1 walk and 3 runs (2 earned) over seven innings.
“You know, often times you have two pitchers rated this high to go in the draft, sometimes it doesn’t quite work out like that. Maybe they try to do too much. But it ended up being exactly what we thought it would be,” O’Sullivan said. “A really well-pitched game, and both guys kept their emotions in check and did what they were supposed to do. It was really fun to be a part of it.”
In Baseball America’s preseason ranking of top prospects for the 2018 MLB Draft, Singer topped the list while Mize was No. 4.
Brady trying to put on a show, works a 1-2-3 first inning in front of the 6️⃣1️⃣ scouts we had check in for tonight's game.
— Gators Baseball (@GatorsBB) April 26, 2018
They showed why Thursday night in the opener of the teams’ three-game series, but the difference was Florida’s national player of the year candidate who made his own splash for the scouts.
India has turned into one of the top hitters in college baseball this season for the Gators (35-9, 15-4 SEC). After Nelson Maldonado reached on an error by third baseman Josh Anthony, with the setting sun surely a factor, India made Auburn (30-13, 9-10) pay while lining a 1-0 pitch into the bleachers in left field for his 14th homer of the season.
The #Gators got it done on Thursday night in a prime-time pitching matchup.
— Gators Baseball (@GatorsBB) April 27, 2018
“We came out relaxed today. In the locker room, we were all relaxed. We just told ourselves, ‘Have fun. It’s another game.’ But it did help us get momentum,” India said.
Said Singer: “I was stoked. Especially in the first inning, the next few innings I kind of relaxed a little bit more.”
That’s all he would need.
Singer, leaning on excellent fastball command and using his plus slider as his strikeout pitch, cruised through a 1-2-3 top of the first inning. The next inning, he stranded runners on first and second after getting a three-pitch strikeout and groundout back to the mound. He surrendered only a harmless two-out single in the third and then ran into a jam in the fourth.
Edouard Julien led off the frame with a single, Singer plunked Brendan Venter, gave up a sacrifice bunt and then allowed a run to score on Jay Estes’ groundout.
That was it, though.
Singer followed with a 1-2-3 fifth inning with 2 strikeouts, K’d two more in the sixth and worked around a leadoff single for a quiet seventh inning to finish his night. He said he begged to stay in, but he had done his part.
“It was a really special performance by him,” O’Sullivan said. “I was really impressed with both of them, to be honest with you. You’re sitting up there and I don’t know how many scouts showed up — somebody said 60 plus scouts were here — there were so much expectations on both of them to perform, and I thought they both did exactly what they needed to do.”
Mize certainly didn’t hurt his draft standing. With his 10-strikeout performance, he stretched his season total to 104 Ks and only 7 walks in 75 innings.
Singer acknowledged there was some added buzz and buildup for this start, but he tried not to take notice of all the radar guns in the seats behind home plate.
“I think we both came out with an edge. We both knew it was a big game. I don’t think either one of us let it get to us. We came out and did our job,” Singer said. “… I honestly didn’t look up. I knew [the scouts] were here. I knew it would be a big turnout, but I didn’t really look up. I was just trying to go out there and have a good game.”
Mize had retired the next eight batters after India’s home run before hitting India to open the bottom of the fourth. Florida again capitalized as India moved to second on a two-out Austin Langworthy single and scored when freshman Brady Smith ripped a 2-2 pitch through the left side to make it 3-1.
“Me as a freshman, that felt really good,” Smith said.
Freshman reliever Jordan Butler pitched a perfect eighth inning to later protect that lead and closer Michael Byrne closed it out for his 11th save.
As O’Sullivan reflected afterward, he tried to think of another high-profile pitching duel that reminded him of what he watched Thursday night. He settled on a game from his time as an assistant coach at Clemson when Tigers ace Tyler Lumsden (the 34th overall pick in the 2004 draft) went against Old Dominion ace and future MLB star Justin Verlander.
“We’ve had a lot of matchups over the years with one of our guys going against another high draft [prospect] from another team, but it’s really hard to remember something like this,” O’Sullivan said. “This was a little bit different. It had a different feel to it.”