February 21, 2013

FSU veteran hitters adjusting to new roles

With five first-time starters in Florida State's lineup, there has been plenty of adjusting through the first four games of the season for the Seminoles (4-0).

However the start of the season hasn't been an adjustment for just the Seminoles' newcomers. FSU's two veteran hitters are in new roles this season as well.

Senior shortstop Justin Gonzalez and redshirt junior catcher Stephen McGee are higher up in the order this season, in positions that demand more production from each. Gonzalez has hit second in all four games, after hitting primarily sixth last season. McGee hit sixth on opening day, but has been in the cleanup role in the other three games after hitting fifth last year.

The FSU lineup will get an opportunity to continue becoming more relaxed in their current roles this weekend as the No. 9 Seminoles host South Florida (1-2) for a three-game series starting on Friday at 4 p.m. ET.

"I definitely feel like I'm playing a bigger role," said Gonzalez. "In that aspect I feel like I need to get on base more so I put a lot more emphasis on my at-bats, but it's just playing defense, let the other guys work and try and do my part by just making contact and just having solid at bats, just try and get on base and score for my team. That's my main focus."

Gonzalez is 4 for 15 (.267) with a triple, two homeruns and four RBIs so far this season. Assistant coach Mike Martin Jr. said he's still working with Gonzalez on making contact more, he already has a team-high five strikeouts after leading the team last year as well with 73.

Martin Jr. thinks that if he can get Gonzalez to accept the mentality of a No.2 hitter, he could see him slow things down at the plate and take advantage of his natural power more.

"He's a lot quicker and faster than he realizes," Martin Jr. said. "He's a fast-twitch guy like most middle infielders are, and when he sees the ball longer he make better decisions to swing or not."

In addition keeping Gonzalez from avoiding trying to do too much, the coaches also like him hitting second because it gives the senior more at-bats over the course of game, and could bring him to the plate late in a game.

"You know he's going to come up in so-called clutch situations," FSU head coach Mike Martin said. "You know he's been there a number of times in his career. When he is zeroed in and not chasing he's an extremely tough out, and we all know what he can do with one swing of the bat. Not saying that's a done deal, but thus far I'm kind of liking what I'm seeing."

There is a potential for a switch down the road with Gonzalez and McGee in the order. Despite his 6-foot, 230-pound frame McGee doesn't have the traditional power of a No. 4 hitter. Last season he had just nine extra-base hits in 204 at-bats.

What McGee does do, is get on base. Last season he had an on-base percentage of .428 thanks to 61 walks. Through four games this season, McGee leads the team with an OBP of .611 with six walks. He also is hitting .364 with three RBIs and four runs scored.

"Steve is a guy that can extend rallies, he can drive in runs when he needs to, he's just a very, very tough out," Martin Jr. said.

McGee said with his new role in the lineup, he's still going to be patient at the plate, but he knows he has to do less watching and more swinging.

"The general approach is still the same, still trying to get on base the best I can," he said. "As far as anything changing, I'm just going up there trying to be a little more aggressive. If I see a pitch that's on the plate I'm up there hacking, I'm trying to drive in runs and produce for the team. I'm trying to get on base as much, but at the same time I still have that approach to get on base."

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