GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida baseball coach Kevin O’Sullivan announced a change to the Gators’ weekend rotation, but he stressed the move is not necessarily permanent.
Speaking after the No. 1-ranked Gators’ 6-4 loss to Mercer on Tuesday night, O’Sullivan said sophomore right-hander Tyler Dyson will remain in the bullpen for the time being while freshman righty Jack Leftwich makes his first weekend start this Saturday in the finale against Auburn.
Dyson, who came out of the bullpen for the first time on Tuesday night while giving up 1 run with 2 strikeouts in 1 inning, has a 3.83 ERA overall but has struggled in his recent SEC starts.
The hard-throwing sophomore was a postseason star on the Gators run to the College World Series last year, but he has made it through 5 innings only once in his last six starts. He was pulled after just 2 innings Saturday at Kentucky after giving up 3 runs on 4 hits and 4 walks.
“We’ll start Jack Leftwich on Saturday, but that’s not to say that will be like that forever. The bottom line is we just need to get [Dyson] going, get his confidence back and I would fully expect, if he throws like he did tonight [during] this weekend, he’s got a chance obviously to get back in the rotation,” O’Sullivan said.
“I’m not foolish, I know that we’re going to need Tyler as a starter down the stretch here if we’re going to do what we want to do at the end of the year. But I think right now just maybe getting him out there as much as we can, maybe twice or three times in a week to get his confidence going, is probably the smartest thing right now for him. And once he has a couple good outings in a row we’ll run him right back out there on a weekend.”
Leftwich is 3-1 with a 3.40 ERA overall, but he’s been much better out of the bullpen. The rookie righty has a 5.87 ERA over 4 starts spanning 15 1/3 innings and a 1.85 ERA over 24 1/3 innings of relief. He’s been especially sharp out of the pen against SEC opponents, posting a 1.38 ERA with 8 strikeouts and 1 walk over 13 innings.
He does have a superlative start on his resume already, having held Florida State to 1 hit over 5 scoreless innings in Jacksonville last month.
And he has momentum. Leftwich took over for Dyson on Saturday at Kentucky and threw 6 scoreless innings, allowing only 2 hits with 0 walks and 1 K.
“He throws strikes, he threw 6 scoreless up at Kentucky which is not easy to do. We obviously know how good their lineup is. And I think he’s earned the opportunity to see what he can do on a weekend,” O’Sullivan said. “But like I said, Jack’s a freshman and he’ll get an opportunity to pitch on a weekend, but the fact of the matter is Tyler Dyson’s going to have to figure this out for us to do what we want to do, and I would expect him to be back in the rotation at some point. We’ve just got to work through these kinks a little bit.”
Dyson emerged down the stretch last season to finish with a 3.23 ERA over 39 innings as a raw freshman. He had struggled in the middle of the 2017 season before breaking out as a clutch contributor when it mattered most, allowing only 1 run over 14 1/3 innings in the postseason. That included starting the clinching game of the College World Series finals against LSU, in which he allowed 1 run over 6 innings to earn the win.
Expectations were sky high for Dyson entering this spring, and they shouldn’t dim all that much with this current move to the bullpen.
O’Sullivan said he continues to see Dyson’s same dominant stuff during bullpen outings.
“His fastball velocity tonight was great and it was really good on Saturday. It’s just his command has been a little bit off, and his release point and his arm slot has kind of fluctuated throughout his outings,” O’Sullivan said. “His pens have been outstanding — I mean, he’s been on point with his bullpens — so it’s really just a matter of getting some confidence going.
“It’s not unusual. It happens to everybody, and unfortunately it’s happening to Tyler right now. But I would expect him to figure this thing out and be really good for us down the stretch.”