USF baseball is in Orlando tonight to face Central Florida, and sophomore lefty Nick Gonzalez will get his first start of the year as the Bulls look to bounce back from a disappointing weekend.
USF (4-3) dropped two of three to Bethune-Cookman, this after losing last Wednesday to North Florida. The Bulls had opened the year with a promising 3-0 run in the Big Ten-Big East Challenge, but they're hitting just .223 as a team, while opponents are hitting .270; UCF, by comparison, is hitting .289 as a team, though their staff ERA (4.65) is a full run higher than USF's (3.39). UCF is 5-2, but one loss came to top-ranked Florida and another came in a three-game series with Boston College.
Gonzalez has fared well in two relief appearances this season, with a 2.84 ERA and five strikeouts against only one walk. He made eight starts as a freshman last year, going 2-3 with a 7.15 ERA. UCF is going outside the box, giving junior D.J. Hicks -- arguably their best hitter -- his first start since 2009. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound right-hander hasn't pitched this season and had an 8.03 ERA last season; he made two starts as a freshman in 2009, when he went 4-5 with a 6.79 ERA.
Another area where USF needs to improve is on defense, where the Bulls have committed 10 errors, including five by Chad Taylor, who has moved from the outfield to shortstop. Third baseman Daniel Rockhold has two errors, so shoring up the defense on the left side of the infield is a must -- no Bulls player had more than 10 errors in all of last season.
Tonight's first pitch is at 6:30 at UCF -- the two teams meet again in Tampa on March 20 to complete the season series.