Pablo Garabitos can be an unassuming presence on the mound in the eyes of opposition. He’s only about 6 feet tall and maybe 160 pounds — a wiry mess of limbs whose left hand produces a fastball topping out around 85 mph.
What his left hand can always do, though, is fire that fastball with precision, and mix in two other pitches he fires wherever his catcher tells him. He won’t find many challenges during this junior season much more difficult than the lineup for Lynn Haven Mosley, ranked No. 8 in all of Florida by ThePrepZone.com.
Even a gem from Garabitos wasn’t enough for Lakewood Ranch to overcome Mosley in Sarasota. The Mustangs fell 2-1, but only after Garabitos and Lakewood Ranch surprised a state runner-up from each of the past two seasons.
“He threw three pitches well on us,” said Dolphins head coach Jon Hudson, his voice laced with just a tinge of surprise. “He was hard to hit. We had some opportunities, but he seemed like he made some good pitches.”
For at Sarasota High School’s Ronald K. Drews Field on Monday, Garabitos was hampered by only one mistake at the very start the game. The normally precise command of his fastball needed a batter to lock in and RJ Yeager, the first opponent Garabitos faced, launched a double deep to the left-field fence. Three batters later, the shortstop darted home from second on a groundout by Michael Cullen for a run, which nearly enough beat the Mustangs (5-4) itself.
Because for six innings Lakewood Ranch was just as stumped by Mosley pitcher Nicky Agosto as the Dolphins (10-0) were by Garabitos. Mosley managed five hits against Garabitos; the Mustangs had four against Agosto. Garabitos whiffed eight batters; Agosto fanned four.
Strikeouts for Pablo Garabitos against Lynn Haven Mosley in the first round of the Sarasota Baseball Classic.
Nearly six long innings after the Dolphins got on the board with their first-frame score against Lakewood Ranch, Garabitos finally returned the favor. The junior, who has verbally committed to South Florida, bounced a single into right field with one out to drive Gray Ellis home after the outfielder led off the bottom of the sixth inning with a walk.
Almost single-handedly, Garabitos forced the game to come down to the final inning.
“He was locating pitches. He was able to keep the hitters off balance and that’s huge. When you’re throwing strikes you’re able to keep the hitters off balance,” head coach Ryan Kennedy said. “He’s able to locate, and he just has this presence on the mound that he wants the baseball and he just throws it.”
Ultimately, a messy top of the seventh inning — complete with an error, a hit batter and a bunt single — saddled Brock Sisson with the loss for the Mustangs after only 1/3 inning of work. Lakewood Ranch, after being stymied by Agosto for six innings, went down in order against Cullen in the bottom of the seventh.
He just has this presence on the mound that he wants the baseball and he just throws it.
Ryan Kennedy, Lakewood Ranch head coach on Pablo Garabitos
While Garabitos shut down an offense which entered the game averaging more than eight runs a game, the Mustangs’ offense instead provided a reminder of why their season has been up-and-down so far. Agosto struck out three of Lakewood Ranch’s first five batters without letting one reach. No Mustang reached scoring position until the sixth inning, when Garabitos finally put Lakewood Ranch on the board against the Florida A&M-bound senior.
“He’s a guy who can handle the bat,” Kennedy said. “Giving him an opportunity to swing the bat in that situation with the wind blowing out to right field, who knows?”
A first-round loss in the Sarasota Classic still doesn’t mean an easy week ahead. The Mustangs will play three more games during the next three days, first against either Sarasota Riverview or Cantonment Tate on Tuesday.
For the next three days, Lakewood Ranch will have to dig deeper into its rotation and deliver more at the plate. Either way, the Mustangs will learn more about where they stand after advancing deeper into the postseason than any other Manatee County program in 2016.
“Hopefully we can carry this over to the next,” Kennedy said. “I don’t like to lose, but it is something we can build on and, hey, we can hang with state championship-caliber teams.”