It must be nice to be Kevin O'Sullivan. When choosing a pitcher for the second game of the Gainesville Super Regional, Sully's options were: Brian Johnson, a first-round draft pick in the 2012 MLB Draft; Karsten Whitson, a first-round draft pick in the 2010 MLB Draft and a candidate to be the No. 1 pick in the 2013 MLB Draft; and Jonathon Crawford, whose last start was the first postseason no-hitter in more than 20 years.
But Sully should get some credit for getting the choice right, too.
It's not an easy task, having to match up against N.C. State's Carlos Rodon, possibly the best pitcher in college baseball, but Crawford's got a chance to shut down N.C. State, a better chance than either Johnson or Whitson, and for that reason alone he makes sense. Being Florida's fourth starter to begin the year was never a knock on Crawford — slotting in behind Hudson Randall, Johnson, and Whitson is like being Steve Avery on the Atlanta Braves teams of the '90s that ran out Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz, on a much less impressive level, and that it's possible is testament to O'Sullivan's absurd run of recruiting — and he's been maybe the Gators' best starter at some points in the last month or so, especially with Randall scuffling and Johnson being merely decent.
But, to be honest, the guy who starts against Rodon this year has typically lost. And that's what makes Crawford the right choice.
Crawford could get his slider working and lay waste to the Wolfpack, but he also has a better chance of blowing up and allowing four or five runs than Johnson, a tested veteran, and probably about the same chance of doing that as the inconsistent Whitson. It's strange to say that about a guy who's yet to allow a hit as a starter in the NCAA Tournament, but Crawford's been erratic at times; Johnson is very much not erratic, and Whitson proved himself as a starter in last year's postseason. Crawford's no-hitter is obviously a phenomenal accomplishment, but it's also one game, a small sample size that has very little predictive value.
By virtue of its Saturday win, though, Florida can afford a hypothetical blow-up, especially if it happens against a pitcher the Gators' bats aren't all that likely to rough up, anyway. If Crawford throws five innings and gives up seven runs, and Rodon has the Gators silenced, O'Sullivan can effectively save all of his bullpen ammo for Monday's decisive Game 3 of the Gainesville Super Regional, and throw Johnson or Whitson (...so Johnson, really) against a less-imposing Wolfpack hurler (no N.C. State starter, Rodon included, allowed fewer than three earned runs in the Raleigh Regional) with a trip to Omaha on the line.
And if Crawford duels Rodon in a close game, or even outpitches him, that's just a bonus of the safe plan doubling as the ambitious plan. It's a rarity for O'Sullivan, whose fealty to bunts and smallball have driven sabermetrically-inclined Florida fans up a wall, to have both of those work out as the same choice, and it's a bonus that Crawford vs. Rodon is the best prospective match-up for fans, scouts, and the like.
This Sunday, Crawford's both cannon fodder and a shining hope. Credit Sully for seeing that, and remember that no matter which way on the spectrum Crawford leans, Florida just needs a win either today or tomorrow to return to the College World Series.