Fall World Series showcases Tar Heels' solid bullpen

A pitching duel in the fifth game of the Fall World Series on Saturday between North Carolina juniors Kent Emanuel and Hobbs Johnson showed off one of UNC’s greatest assets going into the 2013 season.

Emanuel, who was the Tar Heels’ first starter in the rotation in 2012, had a solid outing Saturday, striking out five batters and giving up just four hits in five innings.

Johnson gave up four hits, two earned runs and three walks in seven innings. He also struck out three batters.

“(Emanuel and Johnson) are two of the top guys in the ACC,” senior outfielder Chaz Frank said. “They’re tough guys to hit, and you saw it today.”

Pitching coach Scott Forbes also liked what he saw out of his starting pitchers.

“Kent’s command obviously sticks out,” he said. “Hobbs has got some deception. He’s got a delivery where you can’t see (the ball) until right when he releases it.”

Emanuel complimented Johnson’s play, making note of his typically low opponent batting average last year.

After relievers replaced the starters, the crowd got a glimpse of another aspect of UNC’s pitching strength — the bullpen.

“We’re going to have a very deep bullpen,” Frank said. “Coach keeps saying he doesn’t know if there’s ever been a more talented and deep bullpen here in a long time.”

Forbes echoed Frank’s sentiments, saying the team has a good group of returning starters as well as power from the bullpen — a point of pride for the Tar Heels.

The solid bullpen will likely come in handy during the long baseball season, but UNC is looking to Emanuel and Johnson to lead the charge as the starters.

While both pitchers had strong outings, they know there’s room to improve.

“This fall, I’ve been working on throwing at all different counts,” Emanuel said. “I threw a lot more fastballs and didn’t mix it up as much in the Fall World Series.”

Johnson said he wanted to work on his location as well as eliminating the running game for the opposing team.

Going into their third year in the UNC program, the two starters have steadily improved. As an upperclassman, Frank has seen the maturation of these junior lefties during their time on the mound.

“Ever since Kent’s been here, he’s had that confidence and swagger about him,” he said. “When (Hobbs) first got here, he had some steps to take to be the pitcher he is now. He commands his fastball and also developed some off-speed stuff.”

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