(NOTE: Here is a Florida State baseball story from our Gannett partner, the Tallahassee Democrat, which runs nolesports.com. The Seminoles will take on Arizona in the first round of the College World Series on Friday at 6 p.m. Tucson time.)
By Jim Henry
Democrat assistant sports editor
Devon Travis isn’t a player who needs to check the lineup card.
Florida State’s junior second baseman has started 62 of 63 games this season and has hit in the No. 2 slot behind Sherman Johnson in 60 games. Yet, Travis does review the lineup prior to each game to see what coach Mike Martin has up his sleeve.
FSU’s batting order — specifically the bottom third — has been a guessing game among players.
Martin has employed 30 different combinations at the No. 7 through No. 9 slots heading into the College World Series. The No. 3 national seeded Seminoles (48-15) meet Arizona (43-17) in an opening-round game on Friday.
“It’s interesting because coach Martin loves tweaking things — he’s not afraid to put a guy into the lineup even if he hasn’t hit in three weeks,” Travis said.
“Every time you look at the lineup you are like, ‘That’s different. That’s different.’ But it works. It’s actually pretty cool.”
FSU’s latest hero at the bottom of the lineup is freshman Josh Delph, a left-handed hitter from Bartow. Delph was expected to play a reserve role this season, but his sharp eye and smooth stroke helped him work his way into the lineup in right field.
Delph, who has been penciled in at the No. 7 slot in the batting order the past seven games, hit .400 in the Tallahassee Regional and was named to the All-Tournament team. He had three hits in the Seminoles’ Super Regional clinching win over visiting Stanford on Sunday.
Delph says it’s important the bottom of the order, no matter the combination, contributes to FSU’s offense. The top of the order — Johnson, Travis, James Ramsey and Jayce Boyd — has combined for 55 percent of the team’s total bases.
“You have to just come to the field and be confident, and then check the roster to see what’s going,” Delph said.
“You just have to go out and play, no matter if you are at the bottom of the order, or wherever you are — even if you are sitting the bench — it’s baseball. You hang out with the guys and play the game.”
FSU assistant coach Mike Martin Jr., who works with Seminole hitters, says the lineup and batting order are based on a number of factors, from opposing pitchers to situations to hot hands.
The Seminoles are expected to face Arizona ace Kurt Heyer (12-2, 2.28 ERA). The junior right-hander, a sixth-round selection of the St. Louis Cardinals in last week’s Major League amateur draft, leads the nation in innings pitched (138) and has thrown seven complete games.
Heyer surrendered a career-high 17 hits and threw 91/3 innings but did not factor in the Wildcats’ 7-6 win over St. John’s in 10 innings in the Super Regional opener.
Delph says he focuses on his swing rather than an opposing pitcher.
In addition to Delph, juniors Seth Miller (.224), a late-game replacement on Sunday who hit a grand slam, and Stephen Spradling (.275 and .482 on-base percentage) and freshmen John Nogowski (.246) and John Holland (.250) each have contributed in big ways this season.
“Their job is to get on base and do everything they can to make it difficult for the opposing pitcher because when the top of the lineup comes back around, that’s when we generally produce runs,” Martin Jr. said.
“That group’s really grown, gotten better and done a lot of good things recently.”
Senior captain James Ramsey agreed, pointing out that he and Travis did not have a hit in Sunday’s 18-7 win over the Cardinal.
“Guys didn’t believe us old salty veterans when we say you don’t win regionals and Supers, three-four-five — you win it seven-eight-nine (in the batting order),” Ramsey said.
“If you would have told me that we’d score 18 runs (Sunday) and Devon and I wouldn’t have had a hit, people would have said, ‘No way, there’s no chance.’
“The guys at the bottom of the order are getting it done.”