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‘Noles 9: Parker Messick provides another spark, Elijah Cabell’s slump and more

Florida State's Tyler Martin logged five hits against Virginia Tech Sunday.
Florida State's Tyler Martin logged five hits against Virginia Tech Sunday.(LARRY NOVEY 2021 | Florida State Athletics)
Published: Mar. 15, 2021 at 5:19 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - There was a moment in Saturday afternoon’s game in Blacksburg that represented a new low point of Florida State’s season. In the bottom of the fifth inning, Virginia Tech’s leadoff hitter, Jack Hurley, stepped in to face Bryce Hubbart.

Hubbart, who had tossed six shutout innings against Virginia in his previous start a week earlier, was dealing again through four innings. The lefty had allowed two runs but both were unearned as a result of two errors by his defense.

Hubbart then fired a changeup a 1-2 changeup at Hurley. The pitch was intended to be low and inside but missed up. Hurley got his bat around to it and crushed a solo homer over the wall in center field.

Hurley spent almost his entire route around the bases barking at Hubbart, to which Mat Nelson and the Seminoles’ dugout took exception. By the time Hurley finally made it back to his dugout and swung the signature Virginia Tech Home Run Hammer, Florida State seemed defeated.

That adrenaline-filled play fueled a three-run inning for the Hokies on their way to a 5-0 win. Florida State registered just three hits all game and committed three errors in its most embarrassing performance of the season. Virginia Tech had seemingly sucked every last bit of life out of the Seminoles.

The mood after Saturday’s drubbing was reminiscent of the Seminoles home sweep at the hands of Pitt just two weeks earlier. The next time out against Virginia, Mike Martin Jr. turned to Parker Messick, who tossed eight shutout innings and injected new life into Florida State’s dugout.

So of course, Martin Jr. went right back to his exuberant lefty on Sunday against Virginia Tech, but this time in about the most improbable manner anyone could have guessed.

Martin Jr. has repeatedly said after a few poor offensive games early in the season that he will make lineup changes in order to find guys who will churn out quality at-bats, but nobody expected that meant Messick would be hitting sixth in the DH spot Sunday.

Messick said after Sunday’s game that the last time he faced live pitching was when he was playing for Plant City High School in the Florida Class 8A State Championship game. That was nearly 21 months ago.

So of course, in his first plate appearance since then, all Messick did was work a seven-pitch at-bat and do this:

The last Florida State player to hit a home run in his first career at-bat was Jonathan Foster in 2018. Foster though, was primarily a catcher who didn’t take a 21-month absence from facing any live pitching.

No data this specific is available, but it would be hard to believe there are too many other players in the history of Florida State baseball, if any, who hit a home run in his first career plate appearance after batting in a game for 21 months.

That incredible feat was only the beginning of Messick’s spectacular day though. On his next at-bat in the third inning, he singled through the left side for his second hit. Later in the fifth inning, he grounded out to first base to advance Vince Smith from second to third. If not for a baserunning error by Smith moments later, Florida State might have added another run.

Fast forward to the sixth inning, Messick worked another 3-2 count before lining out to first base. Finally, in the eighth inning, he blooped a single into center field for his third hit of the day.

Five plate appearances. Five quality at-bats. He finished the day 3-for-5 and was a key cog in Florida State’s best offensive game of the season. The Seminoles scored 14 runs, had 18 hits, smacked four home runs and struck out only seven times.

For the second week in a row, Messick provided exactly the spark Florida State needed to get back on track. Obviously, Messick can’t be in the lineup every game since he’ll be pitching on Friday nights, but it would now be a surprise to not see him back in the lineup at some point next weekend at Miami.

It would be remiss not to also mention the game Wyatt Crowell had at the plate after he too was unexpectedly given the start in left field. The freshman lefty pitcher collected his first collegiate hit, finishing 1-for-4 with a walk and two runs. Neither Messick nor Crowell struck out once in 11 combined plate appearances.

Adding both of them to the lineup seemed a bit desperate at first on Martin Jr.’s part, but the gutsy decision paid off tremendously.

2. Elijah Cabell’s extended slump – how does Sunday affect him?

Now that we’ve covered how prolific Florida State’s offensive performance was on Sunday, some may be surprised to see all of that was done without its best power hitter in Elijah Cabell. Crowell getting the start in left field Sunday meant Cabell started the game on the bench.

If not for Reese Albert suffering a concussion while tracking a ball at the warning track in the second inning, Cabell might not have played at all.

Ever since Cabell hit a 489-foot home run against Pitt two weeks ago, he’s been abysmal at the plate. Over the last six games, he is 0-for-13 with seven strikeouts.

  • 3/5 Virginia: 0-for-3, 1 BB, 3 Ks
  • 3/6 Virginia: 0-for-2, 2 Ks
  • 3/7 Virginia: 0-for-3, 1 K
  • 3/12 Virginia Tech: 0-for-3, 2 Ks
  • 3/13 Virginia Tech: 0-for-2, 1 BB, 1 K
  • 3/14 Virginia Tech: 0-for-0, 1 BB, 0 K

Before Sunday, Martin Jr. removed Cabell in each of the last four games. In three of those games, Cabell’s replacement was Nico Baldor. Baldor is just 1-for-7 this season and is a career .181 hitter in four seasons at Florida State, which says quite a bit about Martin Jr.’s lack of confidence in Cabell right now.

Martin Jr. has said in the past that Cabell might have more power than any player who has come through Florida State in the 24 years he has been on the coaching staff. Unfortunately, the fact that FSU hit four home runs and struck out a season-low seven times without Cabell in the lineup doesn’t bode well for him.

Messick and Crowell both looked more comfortable and were just tougher to get out on Sunday than Cabell has been the past two weeks.

Maybe some of Cabell’s struggles can be attributed to his hamstring injury. Yes, it’s been three weeks since he’s returned to the lineup, but those injuries can linger and take a while to truly get back to 100%.

However, the more Cabell continues to slump, the harder it will be to keep him in the lineup, especially if Sunday turns out to be more than a one-game wonder.

3. Logan Lacey delivers the biggest hit of the season

Baldor replaced Cabell in three of the four games before Sunday, but on Friday Martin Jr. called on Logan Lacey to pinch-hit for the power-hitting left fielder in the top of the eighth inning with FSU trailing 3-2.

Lacey exited last weekend’s series against Virginia with a hand injury and was questionable to play this weekend.

Seeing him back on Friday was a good sign itself, but what ensued next shifted the momentum for the rest of the game.

With Nelson on third base, Lacey got a 1-2 fastball on the outer part of the plate and crushed a homer over the left-field wall.

That hit gave Florida State its first lead of the game and was part of a six-unanswered-run stretch for the Seminoles after being down 3-0 through five innings.

Lacey has been lauded for his defensive versatility during his first couple of seasons at Florida State. He transferred from Tallahassee Community College before the start of last season and has played at third base and in the outfield. Interestingly enough, he was primarily a pitcher at TCC, but he has since transitioned into a valuable utility role for FSU.

In 12 games last season, Lacey hit .379/.438/.621. He hadn’t quite found his stride before this weekend, but that homer was one of his three hits (two on Sunday) in nine at-bats against Virginia Tech.

Lacey’s defensive versatility already makes him difficult to keep out of the lineup for too long, but if he begins to hit like he did last season, Florida State will be a much more dangerous team going forward, as we saw Sunday.

Martin Jr. needs to be given a lot of credit here too. Pinch-hitting Lacey for Cabell was another bold move that paid huge dividends. Between that, inserting Messick and Crowell into the lineup Sunday and his bullpen management, this weekend was Martin Jr.’s best series of the season so far.

4. Strikeouts improved throughout the weekend

Florida State’s weekly strikeout number looks a lot better after the Virginia Tech series than it did at the end of last weekend.

Through 12 games this season, the Seminoles are striking out in 36.3% of their at-bats, which is down from 39.1% at the end of last weekend.

That’s also an improvement from the 37% of at-bats last season in which Florida State struck out.

Of the three series in ACC play that Florida State has completed thus far, the Virginia Tech series was undoubtedly the best Florida State performed in this area. The Seminoles also seemed to mostly improve here as the weekend progressed.

On Friday FSU struck out 15 times as a team, but take a look at the improvement late in the game.

Inning RangeRunsHitsKs
1-50110
6-9685

Saturday was one of the worst offensive games of the season for the Seminoles, but strikeouts weren’t necessarily the biggest problem. FSU struck out 10 times in its 29 at-bats, which is not great but still below its season average. The Seminoles just couldn’t make quality contact, and a lot of credit needs to go to Virginia Tech’s lefty Chris Gerard, who has a career 2.46 ERA in three seasons.

Then on Sunday, Florida State recorded only seven strikeouts, which is only one more than a season-low set against North Florida on opening weekend.

The Seminoles are always going to be a bit strikeout prone. That’s just how a lot of their hitters are. If they can begin to keep their strikeout rate to somewhere in the low 30s regularly, that should be considered a success.

5. Robby Martin resurgence

A couple of weeks ago, we touched on how Martin was struggling to make contact, resulting in strikeout totals that were incongruous with the rest of his career.

He played his best series of the season against Virginia Tech though and he looks like he’s beginning to rediscover his old self over the past four games.

Over the weekend, he went 4-for-14 (.286) with a home run and only three strikeouts. Now, that doesn’t jump off the page, but three of those hits were very impactful.

The first one came during the sixth inning of Friday’s game with Florida State trailing 3-0. The Seminoles had runners on the corners with two outs and desperately needed to get a run on the board. Martin delivered it with a single to left to cut Virginia Tech’s lead to two. That hit will get overlooked by the Lacey home run later in the game, but Martin gave Florida State some much-needed momentum in that situation to springboard the comeback win.

His second clutch hit came in the ninth inning of Friday’s game. Florida State led 5-4 and had runners on first and second with two outs. Martin stepped in and hit a bloop RBI single down the left-field line for an insurance run.

Martin driving in a run in that situation wasn’t essential, but it was some extra insurance for Hunter Perdue and Davis Hare to close out the game in the next frame.

He had one of FSU’s three hits on Saturday, but his final hit of the weekend is worth mentioning. Florida State had already put Sunday’s game well out of reach for Virginia Tech, but Martin decided a 10-3 ninth-inning lead needed some extra padding when he hit a grand slam to left-center on a 3-2 fastball.

That was the first home run of the season for Martin, and it was an exclamation point on an impressive bounce-back victory after Saturday’s loss.

Keep in mind Martin also had a couple of clutch hits in the Virginia series one week earlier too.

Over the past four games, he’s making more contact, while also hitting the ball a lot harder. In two of his last four games, he has not recorded a strikeout. That happened only once in his previous eight games.

Martin’s production over the past four games is what Florida State needs from him. He has an All-American-level ceiling at his best, and he looks like he’s starting to heat up.

6. Tyler Martin’s five-hit day and some fire

From one Martin to another.

Tyler Martin has gotten off to arguably the best start of any Florida State hitter on the roster, but he experienced a bit of a drought during the four games before Sunday. In that span, he went just 2-for-13 (.154) at the dish.

Then on Sunday, he had maybe the best game of his career, going 5-for-6 with two doubles and four runs. Four of those five hits were absolutely smoked.

The last Florida State player to have a five-hit game was Kyle Cavanaugh in 2018.

Martin is now hitting an absurd .432/.560/.541 in his second season at Florida State with 10 walks to only two strikeouts. He really is the perfect leadoff hitter for an FSU lineup that is prone to swing and miss quite a bit.

Martin’s ability to get on base and hit for contact was well-established even before this season, but he’s shown some extra pop to his bat this season too.

Even though he hasn’t hit a home run in 2021, he is second in slugging percentage and extra-base hits among Florida State players with at least 33 at-bats on the season.

He has been the best leadoff hitter in the ACC.

Martin also showed a fierier side to him Sunday that hasn’t normally been on display. In the bottom of the sixth inning, Cade Hunter grounded out to the pitcher, and Martin had some words for him after he brushed Martin on his way through first base.

When Florida State got out of that inning without allowing a run, despite Virginia Tech having two runners in scoring position with no outs, Martin spiked the ball to the ground after he caught the throw from Ryan Romano at second for the final out.

Martin Jr., his father, pulled him aside and scolded the gesture. It was a chippy series all weekend between the two sides, but Martin’s spike was rather mild compared to Hurley yelling at Hubbart on his way around the bases after his homer run. It also didn’t look like any of the Virginia Tech coaches had anything to say to Hurley after that, and the umpires gave no warnings to him or the Virginia Tech dugout.

Martin Jr. understandably wants his program to act with class, so it was a teachable moment for his son. However, a little fire from Martin and the rest of Florida State can be a good thing.

The Seminoles lacked energy during the entire Pitt series and on Saturday against Virginia Tech, but they played with a lot more swagger on Sunday. The competitiveness from Martin and the rest of the team Sunday was refreshing after frankly getting embarrassed the prior day.

7. Bullpen dominant all weekend (other than the last inning)

Florida State’s bullpen was great last week, but it was in an extremely limited role because the starting pitching was so dominant.

Against Virginia Tech though, the starters were solid, but not quite as productive as they were against Virginia. It was unrealistic to expect Messick, Hubbart and Conor Grady to be that great for the rest of the season even though they are all capable of an elite performance on any given day.

FSU’s bullpen was needed for only six innings in the series against Virginia. One week later, it pitched 13 innings. Here’s how the group fared.

PitcherIPHitsERBBK
Jack Anderson1.22003
Chase Haney1.11103
Jonah Scolaro1.11012
Hunter Perdue13002
Davis Hare1.10002
Tyler Ahearn0.20010
Clayton Kwiatkowski2.11013
Ross Dunn0.11011
Dylan Simmons1.00011
Wyatt Crowell0.13310
Total13.0124617

Outside of Crowell, who had an unexpectedly rough outing when called in for the ninth inning on Sunday, the bullpen was tremendous. That’s exactly the kind of production one hopes for when the starters aren’t at their best.

Crowell will be fine. He’s only a true freshman and will continue to get better. His dominant inning of work against Virginia last week is a lot more indicative of his talent than what we saw on Sunday.

Kwiatkowski, in particular, was so impressive once again. He was one of three FSU relievers to make two appearances over the weekend, along with Scolaro and Hare.

Kwiatkowski easily retired all four hitters he faced Saturday with two swinging strikeouts, both coming on 2-2 breaking balls.

On Sunday, he entered in the sixth inning to relive Grady and ran into a little more trouble, through no fault of his own. His first batter reached via an error by Tyler Martin on a grounder to first. The next batter doubled on a fly ball to left that was catchable, but Crowell took a poor route to the ball and couldn’t track it down in time.

That left two runners in scoring position with no outs. Kwiatkowski responded by striking out the next hitter before forcing two groundouts to get out of the inning with no damage done.

He has yet to allow a single run in 6.1 innings this season to go along with eight strikeouts and just two walks. Kwiatkowski has been Florida State’s best reliever this season.

8. Haney struggles again Friday, bounces back Sunday

We detailed last week how Haney has been allowing extra-base hits at a much higher rate than he did in his previous four seasons, albeit in a tiny sample size.

Haney entered in the seventh inning of Friday’s game with two outs and FSU leading 5-3. He retired Tanner Schobel to end the frame quickly and then returned in the eighth.

His first batter of the inning, Kevin Madden crushed a homer to left on a 1-2 hanging breaking ball to cut the FSU lead to just one. Haney was pulled immediately after.

Friday marked the third time in a row Haney recorded only one out before being pulled. That was the first time in his 114 career appearances in a Florida State uniform that he went three consecutive appearances without recording more than one out.

Friday was also the first time since April 22, 2016, that Haney had allowed a run in three straight appearances.

After all of that, it was a bit surprising to see Martin Jr. go right back to him in the eighth inning on Sunday, even though Florida State led 10-3 by that point.

Haney decided enough was enough and struck out the side to end the inning. Impressive bounce back for a guy who has been hit hard lately. He didn’t look like he had lost any confidence at all.

Haney will continue to be an integral part of the Florida State bullpen going forward. Allowing him to get back on track Sunday in a game that was all but over was another smart move by Martin Jr. over the weekend.

9. Defense a liability

Last week, Florida State’s defense was excellent and we wrote about how much that area has improved since last year.

Perhaps, that was a premature sentiment, as the Seminoles defense left a lot to be desired one week later.

After committing just one error in three games against Virginia, Florida State committed eight of them against Virginia Tech. It ended up having no impact on any of the three games’ outcomes, but Florida State cannot rely on that formula going forward.

A look at all eight errors over the weekend show it was mostly the same three names responsible:

  1. Friday B1: Martin fielding error with 2 outs, runner scored from third
  2. Friday B1: throwing error by Nelson on a steal attempt
  3. Saturday B1: throwing error by Hubbart, but should have been caught by Martin, runner scored on one-out infield single three batters later.
  4. Saturday B2: throwing error by Nelson to third on a steal attempt, runner scored on throw into LF
  5. Saturday B5: De Sedas throwing error, pulls Martin off the bag, one-out sac fly two batters later
  6. Sunday B5: De Sedas throwing error, well over the head of Martin at first
  7. Sunday B6: Martin fielding error, Kwiatkowski gets out of 2nd and 3rd, no-out jam
  8. Sunday B9: Cabell fielding error on single to center, allows runner on first to advance to third

Two errors by Tyler Martin, which really should have been three. Two errors by Nelson and two errors by De Sedas.

Florida State got lucky in that some of the errors didn’t do more damage.

The two errors that Martin made were on slow grounders to first that he just bobbled. One cost Florida State a run, and the other did not because of Kwiatkowski’s brilliance.

Only one of Nelson’s throwing errors ended up costing Florida State a run. Same with De Sedas.

De Sedas actually could have had more than two errors, as a couple of his throws were in the dirt but dug out nicely by Martin at first.

Florida State still won the series over a ranked opponent, which is great, but it did so in spite of its defense. The Seminoles have to be better in this area going forward. If they continue to make errors at as high of a rate as they did against Virginia Tech, eventually it will cost them games.

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