Posted: 12:25 pm Wednesday, June 8th, 2011
By Jason Lieser
The closer Brian Johnson gets to returning for the Gators, the better Mike Zunino feels.
Johnson suffered a concussion while pitching May 29 — during the SEC Tournament — when Zunino tried to throw a stealing base runner out at second base, but the ball drilled Johnson in the back of the head.
Johnson missed the rest of the tournament and was unable to play in last week’s NCAA Tournament regional. He is one of Florida’s top three starting pitchers and a key hitter in its line-up, so the Gators were fortunate to sweep the regional without him.
His status remains unknown for this week’s NCAA super regional series against Mississippi State, but he was at least a partial participant in yesterday’s practice, which gave Zunino’s conscience some relief.
“To see him back on the field definitely helps,” Zunino said this morning. “To see him doing baseball stuff made everybody more relaxed — definitely me, from what happened.
“You think about it from time to time. I live with him, so I see him every day. As he gets better, I feel I get a little more at ease. It’s just one of those freak accidents. To get over it took a little time, but I’m doing better now.”
Johnson, a sophomore who plays first base, is hitting .312 with five home runs and 27 RBIs this year. As a pitched, he is 8-3 with a 3.66 ERA in 15 starts.
Junior Alex Panteliodis filled in for Johnson against Miami on Sunday, and likely would do so again this week if Johnson is not ready to face Mississippi State.
Florida has not given any official word on Johnson’s health. Coach Kevin O’Sullivan is scheduled to speak to the media Thursday.
The best-of-three series begins Friday at noon at McKethan Stadium. Game 2 is Saturday at noon, and if a Game 3 is necessary, it will be Sunday at 1 p.m.