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Belanger discusses Dunn as No. 3 starter, strengths of FSU’s pitching staff

Florida State’s pitching staff has a wealth of options. When the Seminoles began full-team preseason workouts about three weeks ago, Mike Martin Jr. said there were eight options for the No. 3 starter in the weekend rotation. Martin Jr. and pitching coach Jimmy Belanger announced on Tuesday night that left-hander Ross Dunn would be the Sunday starter, filling out a rotation that includes a preseason All-American (Parker Messick) and an All-ACC selection (Bryce Hubbart). It’s not a stretch to call this the best collection of arms in the conference.

Belanger sat down with the Osceola on Wednesday afternoon to discuss Dunn, Messick and Hubbart. He also detailed Carson Montgomery’s improvement and why he has been picked as the midweek starter as well as a few other pitchers on the 2022 squad. FSU opens the season on Friday against James Madison at 6 p.m. (all of the games this weekend will stream on ACC Network Extra).

Ross Dunn is FSU’s Sunday starter

As a freshman in 2021, Dunn made 12 appearances, had a 2.13 ERA and 15 strikeouts in 12.2 innings. In his one start, against Florida Gulf Coast on May 12, he pitched a season-high 3.1 innings with four strikeouts and a walk. Dunn predominantly uses his fastball and curveball but his change-up “has been coming along.”

“He just performed better than pretty much everybody,” Belanger said. “Him and Parker would pitch on the same day in the preseason. They would throw every Friday. And you could argue there was a couple of days where he threw better than Parker. So he just threw the ball well. He earned it. He’s always been really talented. He’s always had the ability. But sometimes he’s just a very analytical thinker. Sometimes when he starts thinking, he stops competing, and then when he does that he doesn’t throw many strikes. I think just him being on the same routine as Parker, and having to throw with him every day, I didn’t mean to do it on purpose but it was probably one of the best coaching things I did is just have him throw with Parker, who arguably competes better than anybody on our staff. And I think it’s just kind of rubbed off on Ross, just how to go about doing that. Competing is something that you can learn. He’s done a lot better job with that, with his tempo and all the things that make a successful pitcher in game. He’s always had the attributes of a great pitcher, but just actually putting the whole piece together.”

Messick and Hubbart are known quantities, lefties who have been successful in the ACC. But Belanger praises Dunn’s ability: “He’ll have the biggest stuff out of all the three starters. Last year as a freshman, against North Carolina, he was throwing fastballs at 97 miles an hour.”

Messick, Hubbart learn fourth pitch

Belanger continued the FSU mantra of three pitches in any count for strikes. He insists that all of FSU’s starters throw three pitches to keep hitters guessing. Messick and Hubbart have worked hard to develop their sliders, which will give them each four pitches. Messick was the ACC pitcher and freshman of the year in 2021, going 8-2 with 126 strikeouts in 90 innings and a 3.10 ERA. He will start on Friday. Hubbart went 6-5 with a 3.80 ERA and 94 strikeouts in 71 innings (opposing batters hit just .208 against him). He will start on Saturday.

“It just tells you that those guys just are continuing to improve,” Belanger said. “With Parker, we had been working on the slider last year. That was something that he actually threw a slider coming in, and then we kind of flipped it to a curveball. And then he had the slider and just over the summer just changed some characteristics to it and make it a little bit more effective, little harder. And then Bryce, he picked that up over the summer. And it’s obviously been a pretty effective pitch for him. It’s stuff that we’ve talked about, but those guys really took the bull by the horns and rolled with it and came back ready to go.”

Belanger said he felt Messick, Hubbart and Dunn were FSU’s best three arms. They’re all left-handers and he said it wouldn’t matter if an opponent uses a lineup full of right-handed hitters.

“They’re just the three best guys to attack a lineup,” Belanger said. “If James Madison rolled out nine right-handed hitters, it wouldn’t bother me. With the way that we pitch and what they’re able to do, Parker sometimes is better vs. right handers, because his change-up is so effective. And Bryce is just hard to hit. It’s just the way the way he pitches. Those are the three best guys that earned it and that’s kind of what we rolled with. I’m never going to complain about having too much left-handed pitching in my career, but it just kind of worked out that those three guys are the guys we’re going to roll with. And sometimes that changes as the year goes, but early on we’re going to see what it looks like.”

Carson Montgomery earns midweek start

The Seminoles needed to establish a No. 4 pitcher, the midweek starter, immediately as they will play at Jacksonville on Tuesday, travel to Mercer on March 1, play host to FGCU on March 8 and then play the first of three games against Florida on March 15. Sophomore right-hander Carson Montgomery earned the starting job and has improved command, Belanger said. Montgomery went 0-1 with a 4.50 ERA, striking out 39 batters in 28 innings in 2021. When he was on, he was tough to hit. And when his control was off, he was throwing curveballs in the dirt.

“Much better command,” Belanger said. “The misses aren’t as big. So obviously last year when he would throw a pitch and he’d missed the strike zone, sometimes it would go to the backstop. Where his misses are much smaller (now). I think he threw this past weekend and he had one walk in four innings. So he’s pitched really, really well. … Montgomery, you find me a better guy starting on Tuesdays in the country, I’d be shocked. He’s super talented. And, if we’re going to do all the things that we want to do, Carson Montgomery is going to be right in the middle of it.”

Scolaro has closer make-up

Redshirt senior left-hander Jonah Scolaro will be FSU’s closer. Scolaro had 26 strikeouts in 23.2 innings over 31 appearances. He had a 2.28 ERA and had a save in the ACC Tournament.

“Experience, toughness,” Belanger said. “When we give the ball to Jonah, we know what we’re gonna get out of him. He developed a change-up over the summer. And that’s really made him more effective vs. right-handers. He’s got the most appearances in our program. The moment is not going to be too big. And he’s just a guy that we have a high level of trust in. And that’s really the biggest piece in that role. You just want a guy you can trust.”

Who else to watch?

There are almost so many pitching options that it’s easy to ignore a few. Among the sophomores to follow are LHP Wyatt Crowell, LHP Andrew Armstrong and RHP Jackson Nezuh. Among the freshmen who have impressed are RHP Jackson Baumeister, who was a top 60 prospect in the 2021 MLB draft but opted to come to FSU. Baumeister had an absurd 145 strikeouts and just 20 walks in 77.1 innings as a senior at Jacksonville Bolles.

FSU also landed transfer Joe Charles from North Carolina. Charles is an Orlando native who knew a number of FSU’s pitchers. When he went in the portal, Belanger made contact. “I just knew the ability,” Belanger said. “So we took a chance on his talent. And he’s coming along really nicely.”