Super Regional rain delay provokes UNC pitching changes

With game one of the Chapel Hill Super Regional postponed, the top-ranked North Carolina baseball team was given both an extra day of rest and an opportunity to reassess its pitching rotation against South Carolina.

In a press conference Thursday, coach Mike Fox announced that pitcher Hobbs Johnson, who started Sunday and threw four pitches of relief Monday, would be UNC’s game one starter.

After inclement weather moved the first game of the series to Saturday at noon, the Tar Heels adjusted their rotation to make junior Kent Emanuel the first pitcher any Gamecock sees on the mound this weekend.

Emanuel has been the regular Friday starter for UNC, but a larger-than-usual workload in UNC’s Regional provoked announcers and analysts to criticize coaches Fox and Scott Forbes, who have reputations for protecting arms.

The first team All-ACC pitcher, who started Saturday and threw 124 pitches in more than seven innings of work, was brought in as a reliever in the eighth inning Monday and threw 51 pitches on just a day of rest.

Though Forbes admitted he wasn’t surprised by the criticism, he wasn’t very fond of it.

“Some of it was a little bit disappointing,” Forbes said. “When you’ve had a year like we’ve had, you think, ‘If we’re going to go down, we’re going to go down with our best guy.”

Forbes also said he received supportive texts from former Tar Heel and New York Mets pitcher Matt Harvey backing his decision and assuring him that the analysts “didn’t know what they’re talking about.”

Emanuel agreed with his coach and explained that he usually throws on Mondays. He just usually doesn’t face competition.

“We talked about it a few days (before the regional). It wasn’t anything crazy. It was very planned out,” Emanuel said. “Coach Forbes (said), ‘You throw your bullpen usually on Monday. Would you be opposed to just doing that with a real batter?

“Of course I was ready to go.”

The Tar Heel’s ace added that Forbes closely monitored him throughout the weekend to make sure he was OK, and on Monday, Emanuel thought he was throwing harder against Florida Atlantic than he was in his first start against Towson.

With all the attention that has been drawn to the Tar Heels’ pitching decisions lately, at UNC’s press conference Thursday one theme remained consistent in the Tar Heels’ answer — it’s not as big of a deal as everyone is making it.

“It’s really been blown way out of proportion,” Emanuel said.

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