Monday with Mike Fox

Inside Carolina caught up with head coach Mike Fox on Monday, after the Tar Heels went 5-0 last week, including mid-week wins over Charlotte and Davidson and then a weekend sweep of Stony Brook, to improve to 11-1.

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What was your impression of the weekend series against the Sea Wolves?
"It was three really good wins for us. A good opponent - a NCAA team - and I thought they played really, really hard against us. Anytime you have to play a doubleheader and play two nine-inning games you just don't ever know. Obviously we made the right call with the weather and our team responded in the second game on Saturday when Stony Brook went ahead and we came back and scored in the bottom of the inning. But all in all I was really impressed with the way we played defense all weekend and really all week. I think we made only two errors in five games this week and that is a part of our team."

Speaking of the defense, the team appears to be making all of the routine plays as compared to this weekend where Stony Brook made some costly errors that the Tar Heels were able to capitalize on. How often do you stress the importance of making the steady play consistently?
"We talk about that all the time, trying to be a steady team and it's about making the routine play. If the pitcher makes a good pitch and gets a routine ground ball, those are the plays you have to make. You are going to get your opportunity to make a spectacular play. A ball in the hole or a diving catch, but you don't practice those as much. So you practice everyday the routine ground ball and so far - and especially up the middle with Tommy [Coyle] and Levi [Michael] - I think those guys had 30 assists with no errors. That is all really we are asking for from those guys and it certainly helps you. You are right it prevents the big inning and we took advantage of that when Stony Brook made a couple misplays and that is how we were able to score a lot of runs against them."

Can you discuss the two freshmen starting corner infielders in Tom Zengel and Colin Moran and how they have started off in their first collegiate campaign?
"We thought in the fall that both of those young men had ability. I think their mindsets and their maturity has been a great benefit to them as well. Neither one of them seem very rattled on the field. They even started off like that in California. They did not seem to let the fact that they were young and playing in their first few college games really affect their play. That maturity level is so important in freshmen and an 18-year-old. So I think the combination of all of that and now they have gained a little bit of confidence and they are playing every day and got some big hits and I think their learning curve has been shortened a little bit. Now they realize that they are capable of playing at this level and playing at a high level and they have been surrounded by teammates who have been encouraging them and feel the same way about them; you get into that mind set and it helps the way you play."

What does the coaching staff have as an acceptable stolen base conversion rate? Obviously hit and runs where the batter misses the ball come into play with this statistic, but overall what do you expect to be a satisfactory number?
"We set a goal last year of 100 stolen bases and that was probably unrealistic. And I don't know how many we have so far this year and we don't have great team speed, but we have got to take advantage of opportunities when they are there. It is not so much the percentage for us but running when you are supposed to. If you have a green light on a run and hit and the pitcher is 1.1 or 1.2 to the plate we don't want guys running with good execution to get thrown out. It is hard for us to say that you have to steal 70 percent of the bases; we are more into advancing on balls in the dirt and when we do hit and run that you make sure that you find the ball -- run on the right pitch. If you get the green light at second base you are already in scoring position and only trying to steal third if it is just obviously there. It is more the mindset of when you need to run and when you don't need to run. When you run and you try to steal the base and it is not there your percentage is going to be down. I have never really been into the percentages there, mostly it is our catchers and obviously Jacob [Stallings] has done a good job of controlling the running game so far. With most of the percentages of that, if we throw our hat to guys who try to run on us, to us that is pretty good but Jacob is better than that. We should throw out greater than 50 percent of the runners trying to steal on us if our pitchers and catchers are doing their job."

What makes Patrick Johnson so effective at holding runners and giving his catcher a chance at throwing out opposing base runners?
"He's probably got some of the quickest feet on the team. His move to first base is one of the best on our team. Once that is established you get a reputation for having a good move to first and you can't get a good primary lead. If teams don't get a good primary lead and our pitchers are not just incredibly slow to the plate then Jacob will have a chance at throwing anyone out. Patrick has that reputation with a good move to first base and that will help balance out the running game."

How about what you've seen thus far from Chaz Frank starting off his sophomore season?
"He plays hard and practices hard. He has gotten an opportunity and has taken advantage of it which is what I see from players who have worked so hard - when they get an opportunity they are really, really ready. He has surprised us a little bit with how he has hung in there against left handers and had some big hits off of left handed pitching and he runs the bases as well as anyone we have on our team, just kind of with reckless abandon but under control. He advances on balls in the dirt and goes first to third. Right now he is picking the right pitches to swing at I think - early on he was taking a little bit too much. Sometimes when he got himself into a hitter's count he was not letting the bat go with runners in scoring position. We moved him in the six hole to get a little more speed up there. He is moving the ball for us right now, that is what we need in that position - somebody who can move the ball - and he has been good for us so far and he is playing with confidence. He always plays with great enthusiasm which is fun to watch."

Where have you seen improvement from Chris Munnelly, as a sophomore in the starting rotation?
"He certainly has improved. We saw that last year Chris had great potential with his consistency on the mound - fastball location and command, not relying on that breaking ball so much. When you get into jams sometimes you are concerned about throwing fastballs. When you have good fastball command you can throw pitches on both sides of the plate and Chris certainly can get ahead and has been efficient. I think he has pitched well so far and is aggressive and learned how to pitch inside and has no fear of pitching inside. That is what you have to do to be a successful pitcher, which is certainly the case this year with the new bats. He has made a good progression in all of his pitches with better command and obviously been good at controlling the running game. He fields his position and has gained some more confidence. We like how Chris has been throwing the ball so far."

You have an interesting and challenging mid-week slate this week with Elon and Coach Kennedy - who are frequent visitors - and a difficult opponent on Wednesday with St. John's...
"Two good games this week and it is obviously Spring Break and we are playing at a different time to try to help to get more fans out with a five o'clock game, which is a little different time but hopefully some folks will get out of work and head out to Boshamer. Elon is always a good team and they give us fits and are always well coached. We are fortunate to have such a quality opponent right down the road. St. John's, we played them last year and they have been very good and have a couple outstanding players and they are also very well coached. They enjoyed coming here last year and they are on a big road swing and we have them coming back again next year if I'm not mistaken during their Spring Break again. Two big games for us this week and we will see how we get the week started. It'll certainly be very important that we don't look ahead to our first ACC series this weekend (against Wake Forest) and not take these two game seriously. They are very important."

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