TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – It’s probably not as easy as Tyler Holton makes it look.
Thanks to a series of injuries in the Florida State outfield, Holton, a sophomore starting pitcher, last week expanded his responsibilities to include duties at the plate and in right field.
Although it’s not an entirely new role for Holton – he split time between the mound and the field a year ago – it’s still one he hasn’t played in a while.
To say he’s picked up where he left off might be selling Holton short: Through four games as an everyday player, Holton is hitting .364 with a home run, four RBIs and two walks.
And he had a pretty running catch that helped halt an offensive rally by Jacksonville on Tuesday.
Holton will be at it again this weekend, when the No. 25 Seminoles host No. 20 Wake Forest for three games at Dick Howser Stadium. He’ll be in right field on Friday, and on the pitcher’s mound on Saturday.
“Did I expect to be an outfielder at this time of the year? No, definitely not,” said Holton, a Tallahassee native and former Big Bend Player of the Year at Lincoln High.
“But it’s fun, getting back to playing baseball every day. That’s what I’ve been used to growing up.”
Holton’s emergence isn’t just a pleasant surprise for the Seminoles. It might turn out to be a crucial development for a team that, despite an uneven road to this point, still has lofty goals as it enters the final two weekends of the regular season.
Florida State has lost two left-handed hitters to season-ending injuries – Tyler Daughtry tore the ACL in his right knee last month, and then Rhett Aplin, the team’s leading hitter and starting right-fielder, broke his foot while rounding first base in a game against Pacific on Saturday.
Those injuries, combined with a series of ailments and illnesses to starting left fielder Jackson Lueck, might have devastated another team.
The Seminoles, however, had the luxury of turning to Holton.
When Daughtry got hurt, FSU assistant Mike Martin Jr. told Holton to carve out a little bit of practice time in the field and at the plate – just in case.
Then when Aplin went down, Holton figured it was time to grab a bat.
“I wish I didn’t have to, but you have to take what’s happened and move forward,” Holton said. “It always stinks to see someone have a season-ending injury.”
Holton wasted almost no time making an impact.
In his first at-bat as a regular in the lineup (he had previously made two pinch-hit appearances), he launched a three-run homer that sparked the Seminoles to a win over Pacific.
That was the first of two hits on the day, and the start of a three-game hitting streak that Holton carries into this weekend.
“I’m very pleased with the fact that he’s had very few at-bats and he acts like he’s been up there for 100,” FSU coach Mike Martin said. “His approach to hitting is outstanding.”
The next day, Holton took to the mound, struck out 10 hitters and allowed only three hits on the way to his team-best sixth win.
Through 12 starts this season, the lefthander owns a 6-2 record and a 3.03 earned-runs average while allowing the fewest hits and pitching the most innings among FSU’s starters.
“It’s kind of crazy,” junior shortstop Taylor Walls said, “(to have) somebody that can go out there and do both things as good as he could.”
Added senior designated hitter Quincy Nieporte: “The guy’s been probably our best pitcher all year and then he’s asked to play right field and now he’s a feared offensive hitter in our lineup. And I think it’s just a great example for the younger guys on this team to kind of learn from what he’s doing and just be that competitive guy that goes out there, no questions asked.”
Despite his success, Holton won’t carry the burden in right field by himself. Nick Derr is the most likely candidate to play the position when Holton is pitching or needs an off day.
To that point, Holton is taking extra care to ensure that he’s not wearing himself out. He’s even gone so far as to catch fly balls and toss them to assistants during practice, rather than tax his left arm by throwing it back in.
Because whether he’s on the mound, at the plate or in the field, Holton will have a big part to play as the Seminoles approach the postseason.
And his teammates are happy to have him in those roles — all three of them.
“I have all the confidence in him,” Walls said. “He’s kind of a one of a kind. Guys like that don’t come around too often.”