The Daily Tar Heel

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Monday September 20th

Pitchers Struggle to Find Control

Pitchers Struggle to Find Control

During the North Carolina baseball team's three-game weekend series with Wake Forest, 11 Tar Heel pitchers combined to toss around these ugly numbers: 42 hits, 29 earned runs and 15 walks in 27 innings of baseball.

For those of you without a calculator handy, that works out to be a 9.67 ERA. Over the three games -- all UNC losses -- the Demon Deacons hit .371, got on base at a 50.4-percent clip, and slugged .619.

Ouch.

"I don't know that there's any one thing going wrong," said sophomore starter Scott Autrey (1-2), who gave up six earned runs in seven innings Sunday. "We just need to be more mentally tough, keep battling. I know there's going to be times where stuff happens."

The series against Wake pinpointed several of those times. It would seem that the youth and inexperience of the pitching staff -- nine freshman pitchers on a staff of 15 -- are finally catching up to UNC, but the Tar Heels aren't wholeheartedly buying that excuse.

"At some point, we have to quit saying that," UNC coach Mike Fox said. "If you ask me, do we have good enough pitchers to pitch in this league, I think we do, but over time, we got to be able to prove it."

Several things could be the root cause of the pitching staff's problems. For example, Autrey threw first-pitch strikes to only 12 of the 31 batters he faced Sunday, forcing him to work from behind in the count much of the afternoon. Saturday's sextet of pitchers fell behind to 25 of the 48 Deacs they faced.

The 15 free passes that the Tar Heels (15-7) issued throughout the series came back to haunt UNC. Eight of the 15 wound up as Wake Forest runs.

But the mantra after Sunday's game, in which Autrey allowed three home runs, was that the Tar Heels are leaving too many pitches up and out over the plate.

"Throwing strikes is throwing strikes," Autrey said, echoing catcher Ryan Blake. "We need to work on that for sure, myself and everybody else on the staff. And then just keeping the ball down. Just like me today. I threw the ball pretty well, but then when the ball got up, it was hit out."

Fox doesn't think that the problem is quite as simple. He said an inability to throw breaking pitches for strikes leads to more problems than simply falling behind in the count.

"When you can't throw your changeup or curveball over the plate consistently, then if I'm a hitter, I'm just standing up there and if I'm fooled, I'm just going to take it," he said. "You just sit on fastballs, and you don't miss too many fastballs."

And, of course, there never seems to be any rest for the weary. After the mid-week series with Towson -- which starts today at 3 p.m.-- UNC travels to Florida State for three with the powerhouse.

"We got to be able to go out, and these guys have to throw their curveballs over the plate," Fox said. "Certainly we better find it real quick."

The Sports Editor can be reached at sports@unc.edu.

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