’19 strikeouts is absolutely unacceptable’: FSU shut down by Pitt in ACC opener

FSU's Tyler Martin swings during the Seminoles' first game of a three-game series against Pitt.
FSU's Tyler Martin swings during the Seminoles' first game of a three-game series against Pitt.(Florida State Athletics)
Published: Feb. 27, 2021 at 11:22 AM EST
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - In the bottom of the eighth inning Friday night, Florida State trailed Pitt 1-0 and had two runners in scoring position with one out.

Matheu Nelson dug in with a 3-1 hitter’s count against Pitt’s hard-throwing closer, Jordan McCrum.

The Seminoles’ third-year catcher had a golden opportunity to erase what had been an anemic offensive performance from the entire lineup to that point.

Nander De Sedas had done his job with a leadoff double down the left-field line to start the inning. Then Jackson Greene laid a picturesque sacrifice bunt down the first-base line to advance De Sedas to third, followed by a walk and stolen base by Tyler Martin.

Florida State’s situational hitting had been poor all night, but all it needed was one good at-bat from Nelson to undo it all.

McCrum then delivered a high and tight, 94-mph fastball that jammed Nelson. Rather than taking what would have likely been ball four to load the bases, he swung rather indecisively and popped out to first base for the second out of the inning.

McCrum subsequently walked Robby Martin intentionally to load the bases and struck out Nico Baldor to end the inning and wipe out Florida State’s best scoring opportunity of the night.

“They got it done,” FSU head coach Mike Martin Jr. said following FSU’s 1-0 loss to Pitt. “They’ve got a good club, older club just like everybody and, you know, flat stuck it to us pitching.”

Florida State would get another runner to third in the ninth inning with two outs after Cooper Swanson entered as a pinch runner for Dylan Simmons and stole two bases. But McCrum delivered again with a 93-mph fastball at the knees on an 0-2 count to get Vince Smith looking and end the night.

That final strikeout would be the 19th of the night for the Seminoles. Seven of its nine players in the starting lineup struck out at least twice.

“Nineteen strikeouts is absolutely unacceptable and alarming,” Martin Jr. said. “It’s going to get fixed.”

Martin Jr. spent all offseason emphasizing the need to cut down on Florida State’s 37% strikeout rate from the abbreviated 2020 season. In the season opener against North Florida, that issue resurfaced as the Seminoles’ struck out 13 times in a 7-4 loss.

After a disgruntled Martin Jr. bluntly said the Seminoles “stunk in just about every facet” in the season opener, Florida State rebounded with two wins the next day and struck out only a combined 13 times in those two games. The strong finish to the weekend offered some encouragement about Florida State generating more quality at-bats and improving situationally.

The first night of ACC play is not a referendum on the entire season, but it’s clear the Seminoles have much more work to do in that regard.

Winning a game in the loaded ACC will be extremely difficult with 19 strikeouts, but the Seminoles were equally poor situationally all night.

  • 4-for-30 overall
  • 2-for-12 in advancement opportunities
  • 0-for-9 with two outs
  • 0-for-10 with runners on base
  • 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position

No production in those areas, especially the final three categories, is a recipe for disaster.

However, even a scant display in situational hitting Friday night might have been just enough behind an excellent pitching performance from Parker Messick and the FSU bullpen, along with the Seminoles’ first error-free game of the season.

Messick pitched five solid innings, allowing three hits, one earned run and four walks with nine strikeouts. The lefty plodded his way through the fourth inning, allowing his lone run before getting out of a two-out, bases-loaded jam to keep Florida State well within striking distance.

The quartet of Clay Kwiatkowski, Hunter Perdue, Jonah Scolaro and Chase Haney followed Messick and allowed just two total hits in four innings of scoreless ball.

That should have been good enough to win. Pitt starting pitcher Mitch Myers deserves plenty of credit. He allowed two hits and struck out 13 hitters in six innings pitched and pounded the corners all night with both his 89-92 mph fastball and hard, mid-80s slider.

However, one of Florida State’s most glaring weaknesses from last season has resurfaced in two of its first four games in 2021. The Seminoles have to be better at producing quality at-bats and delivering in key situations. That will be a huge factor in determining how their season plays out in 2021.

Martin Jr. said following the game that Florida State’s lineup is built on its power and naturally has some swing and miss tendencies as a tradeoff, but that has never been as prominent as it was Friday.

“We’ll start using different guys,” Martin Jr. said when asked about combating FSU’s whiff issues. “We’re going to find out who can do it when making decisions in regard to pitch selection and balls in the middle third of the plate early in the count, late in the count, whatever. Again, I’m going to find guys that can do it or die trying, one of the two.”

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