Florida State will go with its ace on Friday afternoon in the regional opener against UCLA. Parker Messick (6-5, 3.36 ERA) has been able to go deep into games but hasn’t received much run support in his last three outings, all of which resulted in FSU losses.
Coach Mike Martin Jr. said Bryce Hubbart would pitch on Saturday regardless of whether the Seminoles are facing Auburn or SE Louisiana.
“He wants to be that guy,” Martin Jr. said of Messick. “He’s always wanted to pitch on Fridays. We like both of them. We feel like they’re 1A and 1B. We just felt like Park was the best option and excited to watch him throw.”
Messick was one of the best pitchers in the ACC, if not the nation, in February, March and April. He had 10 or more strikeouts in seven of 11 starts and only had one bad start, a 2.2-inning outing at Georgia Tech on April 8. He threw six or more shutout innings against the likes of TCU, Louisville, Notre Dame and Duke.
In Messick’s last three starts, FSU lost at home to Miami (8-2), at UNC (10-4) and to Notre Dame (5-3) in the ACC Tournament. It hasn’t been vintage Messick as he gave up 13 earned runs in those 16.1 innings, but he also had good control with 12 strikeouts and five walks. He also has 140 strikeouts in 2022, among the top 10 in a single season by an FSU pitcher.
Earlier this week, Messick said he did not know if he would get the ball in game 1 of the regional. But Messick was exceptional in the Oxford (Miss.) Regional in 2021, tossing six innings and not allowing an earned run or a walk in a victory over Southern Miss.
“It’s huge,” Messick said. “I got that first win in (the regional) for me last year. Been there, done that. Now I can just go in there and pitch like I know how to pitch. Just be ready to go and get a win.”
While FSU has in prior years had the luxury of being the regional host and, as the No. 1 seed, has faced weaker No. 4 seeds where the Seminoles could use a No. 2 or No. 3 starter in the opener. But the Auburn Regional is as tough as any in the nation in 2022, and the Seminoles are a No. 3 seed that will face a formidable No. 2 seed in UCLA.
In 15 starts, Messick has gone at least 5.1 innings in 14 of them — putting the Seminoles in a good spot to emerge with a win even if that hasn’t been how the day ended.
“That’s what we’re looking for, a Parker Messick start that keeps us in the ballgame,” Martin Jr. said. “Being able to think and calm the emotions, just play good, quality baseball. That’s what’s going to get it done. There’s nothing wrong with him. It’s good competition.”
Greene won’t play in regional
FSU infielder Jackson Greene will be out for the Auburn Regional due to injury. Greene hasn’t played since he collided with Jaime Ferrer in shallow right field as they were pursuing a fly ball against Miami on May 15.
The Seminoles will likely stick with an infield of Logan Lacey at third, Jordan Carrion at short, Brett Roberts at second and Alex Toral at first. Treyton Rank is versatile enough to jump in at multiple infield positions or play the outfield, while catcher Brock Mathis could jump in at first base.
UCLA frustrating for pitchers
The Bruins have a .390 on-base percentage and make life difficult on the base paths, swiping 72 of 85 stolen-base attempts. They have also been hit by a pitch 101 times. Jake Palmer (.450 OBP) and Ethan Gourson (.439) are among UCLA’s leaders, and the Bruins also have racked up 120 doubles.
“It’s hard to pitch them inside because of what they’ll do,” Martin Jr. said. “They’ll hang in there and take the hit by pitches. They know the strike zone. Very high on-base percentage. They can beat you in a lot of different ways. They can steal bags. They’ll steal third. Drag, sac bunt.”
Unusual features to Auburn’s park
Auburn’s Plainsman Park offers a 30-foot wall (similar to Fenway Park) in left field that protects a relatively short 315-foot distance from home plate to the foul pole. The top of the wall gradually drops from 30 feet to 8 feet in left-center field, where there is a large video board. Plainsman Park seats 4,096, most of them in chair back seats.
Martin Jr. said the park’s features have it playing “fair” and without much of an edge to hitters or pitchers.
“You got the big wall in left,” Martin Jr. said. “The little nook and cranny is when it turns out in left center, it turns and that center fielder better be ready. If that ball hits there it’s shooting straight to center field. I can remember some inside the ballpark opportunities in that ballpark. We used to play them every other year, they’d come to us and we’d play there. It’s a quaint ballpark. It’s very nice. Which is good.”
FSU and Auburn often played home-and-away until the 2009 season. The teams last faced off at Dick Howser Stadium in the 2017 regional in which right-hander Will Zirzow tossed a two-hit shutout to advance to the Super Regional.