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February 17, 2013
Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan doesn't like thinking too much about UF home run king Preston Tucker. As Tucker prepares for minor league spring training in the Houston Astros organization, he no longer offers solace for the Gators' manager.
"I get depressed," O'Sulivan joked.
Zack Powers helped fill that void a little bit Sunday afternoon, becoming the only player in Florida history not named Preston Tucker to hit two grand slams in one game.
They were the first two home runs of a career for a player who has had an up-and-down tenure at UF. Powers was named to the SEC All-Freshman Team in 2011 before losing 2012 to shoulder surgery and being replaced at third base by then-freshman Josh Tobias.
Looking for a place to fit in, Powers made his first start at first base Sunday and proceeded to go 2 for 3 with nine RBI. Before his two grand slams, Powers came up with the bases loaded in the sixth inning and launched a ball to the warning track for a sacrifice fly.
"I did think I got all of that one," Powers said. "But it was great to just get an RBI out of it."
Because of Powers and a suddenly potent lineup, the Gators rolled 16-5 Sunday against the Duke Blue Devils to take two out of three games in the opening weekend series from a team that went 21-34 in 2012. Florida fell on opening night for the first time since 2007 in a 4-3 game Friday night.
The Gators then turned around and rode freshmen pitching to a 4-2 victory Saturday night. Freshmen Tucker Simpson and Parker Danciu combined to throw 7.2 innings while allowing four hits, two earned runs and striking out five.
"I'm very pleased that we won two out of three, but we're going to have to get better," O'Sullivan said. "We've got to have some guys step up."
CF Cody Dent: Florida's worst offensive player one year ago (.134/11 H/22 K), Dent put in extensive work at the plate this offseason and tried to revamp his timing. After three games, he leads the Gators in batting average, going 3 for 8 over the weekend and driving in two runs. O'Sullivan credited him for a "great" series after the game and said he deserves to be moved up from his No. 9 spot in the batting order.
RHP Ryan Harris and LHP Parker Danciu: The story of the weekend was the emergence of young relievers in the wake of a shaky starting rotation. Harris was the pitching catalyst both Friday and Sunday, working 4.2 scoreless innings and allowing two hits. Danciu, a freshman, got the win Saturday night after spreading two hits over 3.2 innings using off-speed pitches to attack the strike zone.
1B/OF Vickash Ramjit: It was a tough weekend for a number of returning players from the 2012 season but no one had it worse than one of the team's two seniors. As was expected, Ramjit shifted around defensively, playing first base Friday and Saturday before being shifted to right field Sunday. That resulted in two errors Sunday and the results weren't any better on offense. Batting No. 5, Ramjit was 2 for 10 in the series, the low for a starter, and struck out a team-high three times.
Starting pitching: The weekend rotation was a strong-point for Florida last season but it will continue to be a question this year. O'Sullivan was forced to go to his bullpen in the third and fourth inning Sunday and Friday, respectively, and got four innings out of Simpson Saturday. Of the eight earned runs given up by Florida this weekend, six were allowed by starters.
"We're going to get together as a staff and I'm not going to be settled on this weekend rotation," he said. "If guys aren't going to get ahead and do the things we've taught them, we've got plenty of options. It's as simple as that."
Midweek games: Tuesday at UCF, Wednesday vs. Georgia Southern