This Week With Mike Fox

Inside Carolina caught up with head coach Mike Fox after UNC swept through a mid-week game against Appalachian State and a weekend series with Northern Florida at Boshamer Stadium. The Tar Heels face Davidson on Wednesday before hosting Pittsburgh this weekend.

Coach Fox, can you reflect back on the last week for the Tar Heels?
"It was certainly a good week for us, getting a win in all four games. We didn't have an easy time against Appalachian State but we got off to a good start. Some of it they helped us a little bit. Getting an early lead is always good and I think it helped Luis Paula in his first start of the year. We were able to carry that through the weekend against a really good North Florida team. Fortunately the weather cooperated and we had some really good crowds. We pitched well against North Florida. We got a couple of timely hits and it was great to have Korey Dunbar back in the lineup. It is amazing what he was able to do after not being able to practice a whole lot of time with us before he was cleared. We certainly needed his two big home runs on Friday and Saturday, then Benton Moss was incredible and he really pitched well. We got three really good starts and climbed out of a hole yesterday and got a come from behind win. There are a lot of positives from this week."

What made Benton Moss so effective in his complete game on Saturday?
"He was very efficient. So I think he only had 105 pitches, which for him - or any pitcher - is great. His breaking ball command was the best he has had so far this year, which is very important for him and we played well behind him defensively. So it was just a very efficient and clean outing for him."

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Korey Dunbar had a big impact this weekend. What does it mean to the team to have him back in the lineup?
"Certainly it was great to have Korey back. I thought that Adrian Chacon in the first seven games did a terrific job for us behind the plate and Adrian is going to see some more time back there. He has a bright future here in our program. It is nice to have some catching and some catching depth. I was really amazed to see what Korey was able to do in a live game situation because he has not had many live at bats throughout the preseason, which is so important. He is really improved and we saw that in the fall from last year, very confident. Getting him in there in the mid-week game and getting him in there with an at bat in the middle of the week helped him and his confidence. He is very well liked on our team and very well respected for how hard he works. So I think he felt everybody pulling for him and those were some very big home runs for us this weekend."

Wood Myers has seized the starting job at second and has been leading off in the lineup. What convinced the coaching staff that he would perform in those roles?
"Wood had another good week for us as well. He got on base half the time he got up there, which is certainly what you want from a leadoff hitter. Wood has some skill - we saw that in the fall. He plays hard, practices hard and is confident. He can hit both left- and right-handed pitchers, which obviously is very valuable. He has to play better defense - all of our infielders do. He is learning as he goes and he likes to swing. He is very aggressive at the plate, which is good, but can be problematic when you are trying to lead off an inning when you are behind a run or two. Obviously he helped us big during that rally a week ago getting on base with two strikes on the ball up the middle. We have been very pleased with him so far and how well he has swung the bat in particular."

The Tar Heel running game is starting to get into gear a little bit, stealing 11 bags in 15 attempts...
"You have to take what the other team gives you. Sometimes they don't give us a whole lot. You get a guy on the mound who holds runners and has good quick feet and is quick to the plate, so sometimes you cannot do what you want to. We want to be an aggressive team on the bases and we have some guys who can run. Some of them are young and they are making some mistakes. They have learned that the umpires don't like to call the balk move very much. So the pitcher has a tremendous advantage at times. Sometimes you can run but you have to shorten your lead. I think we are learning as we go and I think that speed shows up defensively and going from first to third - it shows up in other areas than just stolen bases. It also shows up when the other team thinks you are going to run and they are throwing over and maybe taking the concentration away from the pitcher. It can show up all over the field. It does some for us and we want the other team's scouting report to say that this guy will run and that guy will run because it helps us. I think it will continue to help us. We are going to get better base running as we go on. Experience helps us."

Some of the top performers with the bat last year have started off slowly this season in Skye Bolt, Landon Lassiter and Parks Jordan. I know you discuss with your players that baseball is a game of failure and how batting is the toughest skill in baseball but how do you as a coach try to take the pressure off of your team with the first couple weeks being such a small portion of the overall season?
"You have to remind them of that. It is a game of failure, but you said it, it is a small segment of the season. You are going to have this as a hitter. Some of these batting averages if you look at them they are low but they are not an indication of how you are swinging the bat because the game can be unbelievably unfair to you. You see a guy hitting .150 and you couldn't believe that his on base percentage is going to be .350. You have to keep looking across the column and it does emphasize to us what we preach in on base percentage and finding other ways to help our team win. If it is not on offense that day then make a defensive play, hold a runner close, throw out a guy stealing. Just whatever can be done, advance a runner to help our team win. If you really try hard not to make it all about you then it takes a little bit of that sting out. All of these guys are unbelievable competitors and they want to do well. You have to work to coach them up - sometimes you have to call them, text them or send them an email after the game and point out some things they did to help the team win that maybe they didn't think you noticed. It is a challenge and we will keep working through it. I think we are hitting .230 as a team and we are 7-3 - we will take that certainly."

What is it about Chris McCue that enables you to use him as more than just a closer - for multiple innings when needed?
"We have been able to use him for multiple innings. It is a great flexibility that we have. Yesterday was not real pretty but Chris has the ability to get it done and get a big pitch when he has to and that is experience. He was not throwing his change-up very well at all to the left handed hitters yesterday, but boy he really pitched some good ones to the right handed hitters. And you know he gets himself in trouble, which he is obviously not trying to do with a four-pitch walk in the last inning, but follows it up with a pair of strikeouts. He has the capability to do that and we have a great deal of confidence in Chris and I think he will continue to get better and so far he has been really good at the end of games for us."

With adding Mark Fleury and Josh Horton to the staff, what areas do you have them focusing on with the team?
"Mark has been working a great deal with our catchers and you can see how they have improved. It is great to have someone on your staff who pretty much is what they are doing and what is their role, besides working with the hitters in working with those catchers. Mark takes a great deal of pride in it and is always on those guys, talking with them and trying to remind them of things and he has brought a great deal of experience not only here but when he played in the minor leagues. Josh has been working with our infielders in particular with Landon (Lassiter) and Michael (Russell) on the left side and talks with them about positioning and things. They are down throwing batting practice and get here early after they get done with class. They are an invaluable asset that our program has this year and I feel very fortunate about having those two young men back here with the program and getting their degrees."

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