Florida, South Carolina to face off in College World Series finals

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South Carolina knocked off No. 1 seed Virginia in a 13-inning game Friday to advance to the finals of the College World Series.  The Gamecocks will play Floida in a best-of-three final beginning Monday.

Virginia sent ace Danny Hultzen to the mound in an attempt to stave off elimination last night, but Hultzen, who was selected second overall by the Mariners in this month’s draft, was ill and had to come out after three scoreless innings and eight strikeouts.

With Hultzen gone, the Gamecocks took a 2-1 lead in the fourth, and starter Michael Roth was able to protect that margin until coming out after seven.  The Cavs tied it in the eighth, and at that point, the closers took over.  Brendan Kline pitched five scoreless innings for Virginia, working through the 12th.  Matt Price, a Diamondbacks’ draft pick, threw 5 2/3 scoreless innings for South Carolina, earning the win in the process.

Along the way, Price pitched out of bases-loaded jams in the ninth, 10th, 12th and 13th innings.  He pitched his 5 2/3 scoreless innings despite allowing seven hits and walking five (two intentional).  He threw more pitches (95) than Roth did in his seven innings (91).

So, now it’s the Gators and the Gamecocks for the title.  A few players to watch:

South Carolina

Jackie Bradley Jr.: The Gamecocks’ center fielder and cleanup hitter was a supplemental first-round pick of the Red Sox.  He actually had something of a disappointing season, but he came through with big hits in both of USC’s wins over Virginia.

Price: Arizona’s fifth-rounder was the Gamecocks’ second highest drafted player.  How he bounces back from throwing 95 pitches will be very interesting to see, particularly if he’s needed Monday.

Scott Wingo: The team’s second baseman got on base at a .473 clip during regular-season play.  He was a 10th-round pick of the Dodgers this month.

Florida

Karsten Whitson: Whitson was drafted ninth overall by the Padres last year, only to snub the team and go to Florida.  After having gone 8-0 with a 2.43 ERA as a freshman, he’ll start the second game against the Gamecocks.

Preston Tucker: The Rockies’ 16th-round pick.  Tucker has driven in 19 runs during the NCAA tournament, seven more than anyone else.  He had the go-ahead hit Friday as the Gators beat Vandy 6-4 to advance.

Nick Maronde: A left-handed reliever, Maronde was the Gators’ highest drafted player this year, going to the Angels in round three.  He has a 1.93 ERA and a 54/9 K/BB ratio in 42 innings out of the pen.

Aledmys Diaz is trying to improve his defense with strobe glasses

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MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch reports that Cardinals’ shortstop Aledmys Diaz has been sporting a new look around Busch Stadium with a pair of “strobe glasses,” technology-enhanced specs designed to help athletes focus on the ball. Like a strobe light, the lenses of these glasses affect a player’s vision by rapidly changing opacity, giving its wearers the illusion that the objects they see are moving more slowly than normal. Once a player adjusts to the new speed of play, they gain a greater sense of control and are able to time their actions with more precision.

Diaz isn’t the first MLB player to utilize the technology, just the first Cardinals’ player to do so. It’s been tested by Bryce Harper, Corey Brown, Tommy Joseph, Austin Hedges and Joe Mauer, among others around the league, and has been used for everything from refining a catcher’s reflexes behind the plate to tweaking a hitter’s ability to track a pitch. Per Langosch, Diaz has been using the glasses to hone in on the ball during pregame drills, increasing both his confidence and response time on the field and improving his defense at short.

The shortstop has been the focus of some concern this season after seeing a sizable dip in his production at the plate, and his five fielding errors, 0.6 UZR and 0.6 fWAR haven’t helped matters, either. He sustained a minor thumb injury during an at-bat on Friday night, and was left off of the Cardinals’ starting lineup on Saturday, though manager Mike Matheny didn’t rule out his ability to pinch-hit during the series. While the strobe glasses are a good start, Diaz will need more than a pair of specs to match the spotlight-worthy performance he turned out during his rookie season in 2016.

Eduardo Rodriguez could rejoin the Red Sox rotation in July

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Red Sox’ left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez may finally get a chance at cracking the rotation again, assuming all goes well in Double-A Portland first. Rodriguez took the field prior to the club’s afternoon session with the Angels, firing 68 pitches in a simulated game as he prepared for an upcoming rehab assignment in Portland on Thursday.

The 24-year-old southpaw suffered a right knee subluxation during pregame warmups on June 1, and it’s been a slow path to recovery ever since. It’s not the first time Rodriguez has had issues with his right knee — he sustained a similar injury during spring training last year — and this time around, the Red Sox weren’t about to gamble with their starter’s health. Ian Browne of MLB.com reports that Rodriguez was put in a knee brace and underwent exercises designed to help him regain some mobility and stability while he worked back up to full strength on the mound.

He’ll still need to prove he can throw a 75- to 80-pitch outing in Double-A, and barring any significant setbacks, will likely rejoin the Red Sox’ pitching staff when they visit the Rangers next month. In the meantime, the club will continue to cycle starters through the No. 5 spot, which has seen no fewer than three different pitchers since Rodriguez hit the disabled list. The lefty is 4-2 in 10 starts this season after logging a 3.54 ERA, 3.1 BB/9 and career-high 9.6 SO/9 through his first 61 innings.