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The grind begins as FSU baseball starts ACC play early

Baseball season is one week old. And already the ACC schedule is beginning.

There’s no real warm-up in the 2021 season as even the opening weekend opponent, North Florida, was challenging and took the first game before the Seminoles won the Sunday doubleheader. Coach Mike Martin Jr. said he would stay with the same rotation — LHP Parker Messick, RHP Carson Montgomery and RHP Conor Grady — as FSU hosts Pittsburgh for a three-game series beginning on Friday.

“It’s going to be a grind from here on out,” Martin Jr. said. “We just got to get the right pieces of the puzzle, find the guys that can do it when the lights come on. More intense games, if you will, with the shortened season. There’s just something about conference play. This league is real, top to bottom. We just got to keep pushing. Got to get healthy too.”

Martin Jr. said Elijah Cabell (hamstring) remains day-to-day. It’s possible the outfielder could play Friday but if not it doesn’t mean he’s out for the full weekend, Martin Jr. said. Cabell missed all three of FSU’s games vs. North Florida.

The starting pitching will take time to find its rhythm, likely four or five starts under their belt to establish a level of comfort as with any baseball season. Martin Jr. said he was encouraged that Messick, who threw just 2.1 innings and allowed five runs on Saturday, had what the coach described as his “best bullpen” throwing session this week.

“He’s got that it factor of really wanting to succeed,” Martin Jr. said. “He cares genuinely about his teammates, and he’s passionate about what he does. I’m looking for him to be back to the way he was. … He jumped right back on that horse. We’re excited.”

Montgomery and Grady gave FSU good starts on Sunday as the Seminoles were able to take the series. In the first game, Montgomery tossed four innings with four strikeouts and gave up two unearned runs. Grady pitched 5.1 innings, allowing two hits, three walks and two earned runs but striking out six.

Grady, who is now in his fourth season at FSU, is taking on a familiar role as the Sunday starter but also one where the veteran can be a mentor to the younger pitchers.

“There’s your slow heartbeat,” Martin Jr. said. “And he’s starting to take some of those leadership role as well. It was exactly what we needed on Sunday to get us off to a good start. … You may hit him but he’s not gonna beat himself. He’s not going to go 2-0, 3-1 and consistently go full counts. He’s going to do his thing. And if you hit him, OK, well, ‘I’ll be ready to go for the next one.’ He’s invaluable in that role.”

Grady has been there and done that. He has 16 career wins, including one in the Athens Regional in 2019 as FSU knocked off Georgia (he allowed one earned run in seven innings). Grady later pitched in the CWS, tossing five solid innings (six hits, two earned runs) in a loss to Texas Tech.

“I like the Sunday role because it’s all I’ve ever known,” Grady said. “It’s comfortable and I’m used to it. … I’ve learned ways to go about my outings, ways of staying calm that can hopefully translate to their game (Messick and Montgomery) as well.”

Familiar face

FSU will face off against Pittsburgh, which is led by former Seminoles pitching coach Mike Bell. This is Bell’s third season at Pitt. The Panthers went 10-6 in a shortened 2020 season, and they picked up a midweek road win over Jacksonville 7-2.

Martin Jr. and Bell coached together for years, which means they understand their strategies quite well.

“He knows a lot of the tendencies that we have in the program,” Martin Jr. said. “Certain times we’d like to do this as far as putting pressure on the opposing team. So the fact that I know him, we’ll try to guess right a couple times and do some things to throw a wrench in his plans. He’s a good man. He’s a really good coach. It’ll be fun.”

FSU will also face Link Jarrett, now at Notre Dame, in May. Jarrett played at FSU from 1991-94. James Ramsey, who played at FSU from 2008-12, is the hitting coach at Georgia Tech and the teams will face off in April.

FSU-Pitt on TV, stream

FSU’s games on Friday at 6 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. will stream live on ACC Network Extra. The Saturday game, which starts at 8 p.m, will air on ACC Network.