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No. 21 FSU baseball weekend preview: 2/26-2/28 vs. Pittsburgh

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Mike Bell returns to Tallahassee with veteran team, deep lineup.

FSU sports information

The Florida State Seminoles baseball program opens up ACC-play against the Pittsburgh Panthers Friday night. It’ll be an early season test for the Seminoles, with conference competition just three games into the season. The ‘Noles head into week two with a 2-1 record after taking both games of a Sunday doubleheader over North Florida. Pitt, like FSU, lost their opener, but comes to Tallahassee with a 3-1 record. The Panthers clinched their opening series over Indiana State and won a midweek game at Jacksonville.

FSU had a strong offensive showing on opening weekend. The Seminoles head into week two ranked in the top-40 in the nation with 22 walks, 1.33 HR/game, 8.7 runs/game, a .434 OBP, and a .479 SLG%. All nine FSU starters reached base in two of three games against UNF. Tyler Martin set the tone all weekend for Florida State, as he made just three outs in 14 plate appearances. The ‘Noles were also led by Matheu Nelson’s two HRs, a three-run jack from freshman Vince Smith, and Dylan Simmons’ six RBI.

On the mound, the ‘Noles had uncharacteristic mistakes that made for a long three-game series. FSU walked 7.33 batters per nine, which is currently 178th out of 198 teams. The free passes led to an ERA of 5.00 through three games. The bullpen depth, thought to be a strength, was a weakness in week one. Florida State’s pitching staff will be out to prove those miscues were indeed uncharacteristic.

In the field, it was an up-and-down weekend. The Seminoles didn’t have an error-free game. The ‘Noles made five errors, three coming from the freshman Smith. FSU’s .958 FLD% is currently 137th. Going into ACC play, Florida State will have to be better defensely to win consistently.

Pitt will be led by former Florida State assistant coach and player Mike Bell. Bell spent seven years (2012-18) as the Seminoles pitching coach. He’s 34-41 in three years at Pitt. The Panthers’ program is building around a few Seminoles. Former FSU bullpen catcher Drew Linder is Pitt’s Director of Player Development. Former student manager Austin Thompson is Bell’s Director of Operations.

Bell brings a veteran team to Tallahassee. Like FSU, the Panthers returned every single starter on the offensive side of the ball. They also brought in five grad-transfers this off-season. The Panthers’ offense has gotten off to a hot start, ranking in the top-40 with a .301 average and .412 OBP. The top four of the Pitt lineup is dangerous. Leadoff man Sky Duff is a table-setter like Martin. The three-year starter is fifth nationally with six walks and 10th with three doubles.

On the mound, Bell’s staff will attack the zone. Pitt has walked just three batters per nine innings through four games, good for 36th in the nation. They’ve also posted top-40 numbers with a 1.75 ERA, 11.5 K/9, and 1.08 WHIP. In the field, Pitt is averaging one error a game with a .973 FLD%.

Florida State is 26-2 all time vs. Pitt. The Panthers and ‘Noles last met in 2019, as FSU took two of three games in its first series against Bell.

Friday 2/26, 6:00 PM

Probable Starters: RHP Mitch Myers (5.40 ERA, 5.0 IP) vs. LHP Parker Messick (19.29 ERA, 2.1 IP)

How to watch: ACC Network Extra

Parker Messick got off to a rough start in 2021. After giving up just one ER in 11.2 innings in 2020, the southpaw gave up five ER in 2.1 IP to start 2021. Simply put, Messick wasn’t his normal self. The second-year freshman was running high on adrenaline and struggled to keep the ball down and out of the middle third of the plate. He also struggled with the command of his slider and curveball, allowing hitters to sit on his fastball. He gave up four hits, one walk, a double, and a homer. The lefty will look to settle into his role and get back to his normal self. The key for Messick will be commanding his fastball. When he attacks with his fastball and locates, it allows him to induce soft contact with his off-speed. With six left-handed hitters in Pitt’s projected lineup, Messick’s slider should be his out-pitch.

Mitch Myers got the opening day nod for Pitt. Myers gave up three earned runs in five IP. He got hit around, allowing eight hits (three extra base hits), but also missed some bats. He struck out eight batters and has posted an impressive 12.53 K/9 in his career. Myers is a 6’2 RHP from Lanette, Alabama. The junior possesses a 90-93 MPH fastball with an above-average slider. Before Pitt, Myers had a 3.29 ERA and 88 K’s in 79.1 IP in the JUCO ranks. Myers has swing-and-miss stuff that could give FSU’s right-handed hitters trouble.

Saturday 2/27, 8:00 PM

Probable Starters: RHP Matt Gilbertson (1.80 ERA, 5.0 IP) vs. RHP Carson Montgomery (0.00 ERA, 4.0 IP)

How to watch: ACC Network

Carson Montgomery struggled through the first inning of his collegiate career, but cruised for his next three. The freshman showed his composure after a long first inning, as he went four innings and allowed zero earned runs against UNF. He struck out four batters, while allowing three hits and two walks. The freshman sat in the 93-95 MPH range, topping out at 96 MPH. He showed consistency with his slider and cutter, while struggling to find the feel for his changeup. The freshman will need to be more consistent with his fastball command on Saturday, which would open up his off-speed to be more dominant against Pitt. Finding his changeup will let him be more efficient against left-handed hitters.

Matt Gilbertson will get the ball for the Panthers. Gilbertson is a strike-thrower. In 29 IP at Pitt, he’s walked just six batters. He got hit around a bit last year, giving up a .271 batting average against, but limited the damage with a minimal ERA of 1.12. He started his 2021 campaign with five innings of one-run ball. He gave up four hits and struck out three. Gilbertson is another JUCO-product, posting an ERA under 2.50 over 125 innings at the College of Southern Nevada.

Sunday 2/28, 2:00 PM

Probable Starters: TBA vs. RHP Conor Grady (3.38 ERA, 5.1 IP)

How to watch: ACC Network Extra

Conor Grady had the best start of any Seminole this past weekend. Grady was efficient and in command of all three of his pitches. The veteran threw 5.1 IP and gave up two runs, both in the sixth inning. Grady consistently induced weak contact or swings-and-misses. He gave up just two hits and struck out six batters. He walked three batters, all three coming late in his start. Grady’s veteran presence gives FSU a chance to win every Sunday, especially when he’s keeping the ball down like he did against the Ospreys.

Pitt’s Sunday starter is TBA. 6’7 RHP Billy Corcoran started for the Panthers last Sunday.

Pittsburgh top performers

  • Kyle Hess is the Panthers’ best hitter. Hess is a third-year sophomore out of Pennsylvania. Through 60 career games, Hess has posted a .304 average. Hess broke out in the shortened 2020 with a .373 average and 12 extra base hits in 16 games. He’s carried that momentum in 2021, starting the season with a eight hits in four games, good for 13th in the country. He’s also 10th in the country with three doubles.
  • Nico Popa is one of two hitters in Pitt’s starting lineup with 160+ career games. Popa has a .284 average in 162 games. The fifth-year senior is off to a hot start with eight hits, a double, and a homer. The veteran is also a factor on the base paths, as he’s stolen 33 bags in his career.
  • Ron Washington Jr. has also started over 100 games at Pitt. Washington will provide the pop for the Panthers. He’s yet to homer this year, but had four homers in just 16 games last season. Washington has a career average of .283 and a .451 SLG%. He’s driven in 72 runs in four years at Pitt.

FSU headlines to watch for

AAA34K

Florida State’s pitching philosophy is built off the phrase above. AAA34K is plastered on the bullpen walls in Dick Howser Stadium. AAA34K stands for any pitch, any time, any where, three pitches for strikes. That’s what FSU has to get back to this weekend. The ‘Noles bullpen struggled to find the strike zone last weekend, walking 16 batters in 15.1 IP. Simply put, FSU’s depth has to be much, much better for the Seminoles moving forward.

FSU’s power in the box

The Seminoles have one of their most powerful lineups in recent years. FSU had a homer in each game this past weekend, with all four homers coming in big spots. This year’s lineup will rely on power. Their power production on opening weekend came without one of the most powerful bats in the nation, as Elijah Cabell sat out with a hamstring injury. Cabell’s a game-time decision this week, as he’s still considered day-to-day. This’ll be a quick-strike offense in 2021, with or without Cabell.

Tyler Martin the table-setter

Through 20 career games, Tyler Martin has made a case as the best leadoff hitter in college baseball. Martin has reached base in each of his 19 career starts. He’s also reached base in 15 straight games. On opening weekend, the second-year player posted a .750 batting average (fourth in the nation), two hits per game (32nd in the nation), and a .786 OBP (sixth in the nation). Martin sets up the aforementioned power. He’s the hitter every pitcher hates facing. FSU’s lineup will go as Martin goes.

For Mike Martin Jr’s preview of the weekend, see below:

For a recap of last weekend’s story, and a preview of the upcoming weekend, listen to the latest Sunday Golds podcast: