The Daily Nole

FSU Has Options Following Holton Injury

Ken Lanese/FSU athletics

It was the news everyone wanted to know but nobody wanted to hear. Florida State junior ace pitcher Tyler Holton will miss the entire 2018 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in his throwing arm.

Fans and teammates alike were robbed of watching Holton in potentially his “money” year on the mound. Now Florida State will need to regroup and figure out how to maintain its momentum for the remainder of the season.

Replacing Holton in the rotation is impossible, but head coach Mike Martin will be tasked with constructing a new rotation without Holton, who finished last season with 144 strikeouts in 119 1/3 innings pitched to go with a 10-3 record and 2.34 ERA.

One option is newcomer Austin Pollock, who has a similar build and pitching style to Tyler Holton. Pollock’s name was mentioned as a possible replacement last Friday after Holton was pulled by the trainer and it seems he will get the starting nod on Sunday against Troy with Cole Sands and Drew Parrish sliding up one day in the rotation. 

In his debut as a Seminole on Saturday, Pollock dominated Xavier over four innings. Pollock struck out five Musketeers and allowed just three hits to pick up the first save of the year for FSU.

Pollock will not blow his high 80’s fastball by hitters. Keeping guys off balance at the plate with his off-speed pitches will allow him to work later into ballgames, but his changeup and curveball are only as good as his location with the heater allow him to be. Commanding all three pitches for strikes will be critical to any success Pollock has as a starting pitching with four innings of college baseball under his belt.

A few other candidates that will likely emerge if Pollock struggles in his new role are Andrew Karp and Cobi Johnson — both redshirt juniors that work from the right side of the mound.

Andrew Karp has proven he is more than capable on the mound over his three seasons at FSU. Karp very well may have been auditioning for a weekend spot on Tuesday against South Florida when he turned in five full innings, striking out six Bulls and allowing just four hits in a 5-2 win.

Mike Ferguson and Clint Eiland discussed Karp on the The Weekly Nole podcast, so click that to hear a more in depth breakdown. People close to the program are very high on Karp and his potential this year.

While they never indicated that he could replace (or even replicate) Holton’s production, they do seem to believe he’s a reliable starting option that could turn in to one of the best players on the team. Notably, he’s increased the speed on his fastball to the mid-90s.

As a redshirt sophomore, Karp made 18 appearances. Last year, he gave the Seminoles seven impressive innings against the Florida Gators in Gainesville. The eventual National Champions topped the Noles 1-0, but Karp struck out a career-high 11 in the outing.  If Pollock struggles in his newfound starting role, it will be worth keeping an eye out to see if Karp is held out of a midweek start to replace the freshman on Sundays.

Cobi Johnson is coming off of Tommy John surgery of his own, so it is no surprise that he is not being talked about more to be in the starting mix. Johnson has a demanding fastball and is a guy who has previous experience in the weekend rotation.

While he was sidelined during his junior season, Johnson still has nine starts under his belt as a Seminole and 30 appearances out of the bullpen. In his first appearance since the surgery Johnson struck out four batters in two shutout innings of action while only allowing one hit.

Johnson will not hear his name called unless Pollock is sent back to the bullpen, or another starter has to miss a start. We are probably a few weeks away from the coaches really turning Johnson loose on the mound, but he is another strong arm that could help anchor the rotation if necessary.

Another arm to pay attention to is junior Cole Sands. Sands is already a part of the rotation, but could shore up the role of ace of the rotation — an enormous void with Holton on the shelf.

While the hype around him is comparatively less evident, Sands came into 2018 as one of the more experienced pitchers on the roster. His improvement has been slow and steady during his time at Florida State. It might take a month or two before he hits his groove this season, but there is still a lot of hope inside the program that he’s close to reaching his full potential.

There are some questions around freshman C.J. Van Eyk and why he has not appeared yet on the mound. The USF game on Tuesday seemed like a prime opportunity after Gage Hutchinson was pulled quickly in the ninth. Instead, Jonah Scolaro made a second appearance in four games.

Martin said in the post game press conference that the rainy conditions negated Hutchinson’s strengths, so perhaps they feel the same way about Van Eyk. Still, he is expected to eventually be one of top choice for closing games.

Losing the ace of the rotation, who was also expected to platoon in the lineup, after just one start was obviously not an ideal way to begin the season and it does greatly diminish FSU’s margin for error as a team. Youngsters may be forced to grow up a little quicker, but if there is a silver lining, it’s that FSU does have options.

Robert Blackburn co-authored this article

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