GAINESVILLE, Fla. — It seems no coincidence that Florida’s recent signs of life offensively have overlapped with freshman Austin Langworthy’s return from injury.
The rookie was out of the lineup for a month with a broken hamate bone in his hand before returning last week at Florida State and promptly going 2-for-4 with 2 runs scored.
In the 5 games since his return, Langworthy is batting .400 with 6 runs, 5 RBIs, 6 walks and 3 stolen bases.
“It was disappointing to have to sit out, but I’m really glad to be back and doing something productive for this team,” he said Wednesday. “That’s the best feeling, knowing that you’re helping this team out.”
And the No. 12 Gators (25-12, 8-7 SEC) certainly needed the help.
Florida has scored 10 or more runs in 3 of those last 5 games after not reaching that mark since the third game of the season. That included a 20-run outburst at Vanderbilt last Saturday, albeit sandwiched around a shutout loss and a 2-1 win over North Florida.
The offense is at least showing hints of a resurgence, though, heading into a pivotal SEC series with South Carolina starting Thursday night.
Not only has Langworthy been a contributor to that, he’s settled into the No. 3 spot in the lineup as the Gators continue to search for the right formula offensively.
“He certainly has had some really good at-bats. I knew at some point he was going to hit somewhere in the middle of the order. I didn’t know exactly where,” coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “We tried to protect him early in the year and then obviously he had the hamate (injury) that set him back about a month and then obviously Mikey (Rivera) going down. Mikey was starting to swing the bat really good and was hitting in the middle of the order so somebody had to get in there, and you just roll the dice and hopefully you’re going to make the right decision.
“Ultimately the players make the coaches look like they’ve made the right decision. …. He’s had a heck of a week and a half.”
For the season, Langworthy is batting .277 with 2 home runs, 9 RBIs and 13 runs. Despite missing that month of action, he also leads the Gators with 21 walks contributing to his team-best .460 on-base percentage.
“He’s got as good of strike zone management as anybody you’ll see, especially at that age,” O’Sullivan said. “He sees the ball early out of the hand and sometimes he gets to be too selective because he will not swing at a ball that’s off the plate, and sometimes you get umpires that are going to call 3 or 4 inches off the plate. He will not give in.”
As for the injury, Langworthy said his hand had actually been bothering him for a couple weeks before he broke it. He doesn’t know what initially caused the pain, but he tried to play through it as best he could.
Now back to full strength, he’s settling in as one of Florida’s most reliable hitters within a lineup that can use any source of consistency.
No surprise with Singer
Despite his 4.95 ERA as a freshman last year, expectations were sky-high for sophomore right-hander Brady Singer entering this season.
And he has lived up to all of them — and then some.
Singer will take a 1.68 ERA and a 55-to-15 strikeout-to-walk ratio into his start Friday against South Carolina, having not allowed more than 2 earned runs in any game all season.
Again, though, the Gators aren’t surprised by his emergence.
“It’s what we all knew was going to happen,” fellow front-line starter Alex Faedo said. “Brady’s a great pitcher, and we knew that last year he had a shot to do it too. He’s always had the great stuff, and I think last year was great for him getting a little bit of knowledge under his belt and now you can tell it’s really paying off.”
Singer has even perhaps overshadowed Faedo a bit.
Faedo, the junior ace, is coming off back-to-back shaky outings after giving up 6 runs (5 earned) on 10 hits in 5 2/3 innings against Tennessee and then 6 runs (2 earned) on 7 hits in 6 innings at Vanderbilt. He also had 19 strikeouts over those 2 starts, so it’s not as if his stuff is lacking.
And he boasts a 5-1 record, 2.84 ERA and 68-to-16 strikeout-t0-walk ratio overall for the season.
“I feel like I’m giving my team a chance to win every game, and that’s my job,” Faedo said. “So I’m happy with my season, I hope I can keep doing that and hopefully we can keep winning games.”
O’Sullivan left the door open for third baseman Jonathan India to return to action in this pivotal series with South Carolina.
India has not started at third since March 28 while dealing with an unspecified arm issue and has not been in the lineup at designated hitter the last 2 games, but it sounds like he’s getting closer to a full return.
“We won’t make a decision on that until (Thursday), but we certainly will not play him until he’s 100 percent,” O’Sullivan said. “But once he comes back that will give us some flexibility to move (Christian) Hicks back over to first and we’re going to be able to put JJ (Schwarz) behind the plate a little bit more until Mikey comes back.”
As for Rivera, who sustained the hamate bone injury April 11, O’Sullivan suggested that it could take the catcher longer to fully recover than the 4-week window it took Langworthy to return from the same injury.
“He’ll be able to swing the bat hopefully in another couple weeks, but the catching part of it I don’t know,” O’Sullivan said. “He might need a couple weeks just to swing the bat because I’d hate to put pressure on that hand while he’s catching and have it affect his bat. At the end of the day, we need him back at the end of the year when it really counts.”