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Saturday March 25th

Rodney Hutchison Jr. throws complete-game shutout for No. 21 UNC baseball

Hutchison's complete-game shutout against N.C. A&T was UNC's first since 2016

<p>Rodney Hutchinson Jr. (48) pitches against East Carolina on Feb. 25 at Boshamer Stadium.</p>
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Rodney Hutchinson Jr. (48) pitches against East Carolina on Feb. 25 at Boshamer Stadium.

North Carolina pitcher Rodney Hutchison Jr. experienced a bit of redemption when he threw a complete-game shutout in UNC’s 1-0 win against North Carolina A&T on Tuesday afternoon.

Coming into the game, the 2018 season had not been treating Hutchison well. He entered the game with a 15.43 ERA, allowing 12 runs in only seven innings of pitching. Along with his high ERA, he had walked six batters while only striking out five.

Hutchison looked like a different pitcher against the Aggies, though. The 6-foot-6 junior pitched all nine innings and tied a career-high with seven strikeouts, while throwing the first complete-game shutout for the No. 21 Tar Heels since 2016 (Zac Gallen against Virginia Tech).

“It feels great,” Hutchison said. “Especially after struggling early to start the year. Just get back out there, attack the zone, and it all came together and I went nine. It doesn’t happen much and it’s the first time I’ve done it.”

Pitch command has played a huge role in Hutchison's performances this year. In his only other start of the season, Hutchison soared through 3.2 innings against ECU without allowing a single baserunner. However, he allowed a four-pitch walk that opened the floodgates. He allowed the next three batters to reach base, and he allowed three runs. He wouldn’t record another out.

“I’ve had a little bit of command issues early,” Hutchison said. “But it’s nothing mechanical. Just kind of over anxious, kind of rushing on the mound. So I just wanted to keep my tempo, keep everything together, and just make good pitches.”

Throughout the season, Hutchison has made appearances in both the bullpen and as a starter. He threw 107 pitches on Tuesday, a large number for most college starting pitchers. Hutchison's said his arm didn’t get tired, however. 

“This is what I trained for all off-season,” Hutchison said. “And you get out there and my arm felt great. It was more of a lower half fatigue thing. I started to get tirde there at the end, but there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.”

Hutchison’s  performance may have been quite dominant, but head coach Mike Fox said he didn’t expect it. Early in the game, Hutchison didn’t look like a pitcher who was about to go nine innings.

“I didn’t think he looked that sharp when the game started,” Fox said. “Missing some spots, and they squared up five or six balls out of the first 10 or 12, but then you see that big C word. There comes confidence rolling through, and he got better and better as the game went on. That was the key, and we really needed that today.”

While Hutchison had an excellent game, he wasn’t without help. Brandon Martorano scored the game's only run in the bottom of the fifth off a Zack Gahagan RBI. And, as Fox pointed out, the Aggies were able to put solid contact on a few pitches, but the defense stepped up and made big plays. 

“They were awesome,” Hutchison said. “Not a lot of easy balls, not a lot of routine plays. Kyle had some big catches on the side on popups. Ike had some good plays, and it’s a team effort. I get credit for a complete game, but all of the work we put in as a team is what makes it happen.”

North Carolina ace Gianluca Dalatri has not pitched since Feb. 23, and Fox said that there is no timetable to for the sophomore's return. As a result, the Tar Heels must find a new starting pitcher to fill in during Dalatri's absence; Hutchison might be that guy.

Fox said that he and the other coaches discussed how they will use Hutchison moving forward, but their focus is on the upcoming weekend home series against Pittsburgh. 

“Now we need him in the bullpen for the weekend,” Fox said. “I think he threw over 100 pitches, so we’ll see if he’ll be available, maybe for Sunday. Right now we’ll just focus on tomorrow, try to get us another win.”


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