"We knew it was a possibility he might not pitch the first two weekends," Florida head coach Kevin O'Sullivan said before Wednesday's practice. "We were prepared for this."
The original plan will now be pushed longer without Karsten Whitson. The Gators will still use junior right-hander Jonathon Crawford as the Friday night starter, but instead of searching for a third starter as it looked like throughout the offseason, the Gators will now need two starting pitchers in the weekend rotation.
Freshman right-hander Tucker Simpson and sophomore right-hander Justin Shafer will pitch on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.
The question becomes how long that rotation will stick. If Whitson is healthy and back to the way he was as a freshman, he's a lock to be in the rotation. The question becomes when that will happen. Baseball America reported on Wednesday that Whitson was meeting with famed surgeon Dr. James Andrews on Wednesday to get a read for his options.
"You know as much as I do," O'Sullivan said about his right-hander. "Everything is still up in the air right now. He's disappointed. I think anyone in his shoes would be disappointed, but we're still staying optimistic."
The Gators already knew they'd need contributions from young pitchers this year. The youth will just have to mature faster than normal.
"Karsten Whitson is an awesome pitcher, but our younger guys will have to step up this year," Florida catcher Taylor Gushue said. "That's how it affects us. I'm not worried about it. Karsten has a lot of talent, but our team is good enough to handle it and take it in stride."
PIECING TOGETHER THE BULLPEN: With the rotation decided for the weekend, the Gators have plenty of arms still available to see action out of the bullpen. There aren't any roles set in stone, but giving the closer's job to Johnny Magliozzi is the first big step.
The sophomore right-hander had a much-improved offseason thanks to a tighter breaking ball and some increased fastball velocity.
"Magliozzi's name has been thrown in there," O'Sullivan said. "We've been thinking about him. We want to give him a role because he feels good about it. He has been throwing the ball really well."
There are still plenty of other options. The Gators could use left-handers Parker Danciu, Daniel Gibson, Corey Stump and Danny Young out of the bullpen late in games. The list of right-handers is even longer, as Jason Carmichael, Ryan Harris, Eric Hanhold, Keenan Kish, Aaron Rhodes and Mike Vinson could all see time.
There are pitchers with true split differences in the bullpen. Players have raved about Gibson's effectiveness against lefties while Stump has also shown those tendencies. Harris, Kish and Rhodes are trusted right-handers that could be used in late-game situations.
"We've done the splits since the fall—our hitters versus our pitchers," O'Sullivan said. "There's some definite numbers that jump out at you with our pitchers."
The Gators are just hoping to get off to a good start on the mound with Crawford, Simpson and Shafer. If that happens, O'Sullivan feels confident in his team's ability to piece together the rest of the game.
"We're going to try to do what we've done in years past—try to shorten the game a little bit," O'Sullivan said. "We feel like we have strike throwers on the front end, and 6th-9th (innings), we feel like we have some older power arms in the pen that can shorten the game."