Matt Clements/Inside Carolina

This Week in UNC Baseball with Mike Fox

Inside Carolina caught up North Carolina head coach Mike Fox after he recorded his 800th Tar Heel victory in a weekend sweep of Kentucky to open the 2017 season. The Diamond Heels return to Bryson Field on Wednesday to face Gardner-Webb before hosting Radford this weekend.

What did you think of your opening weekend of offense - highlighted by a pair of home runs on Sunday - under Coach Scott Forbes?
“Well, it was nice to see a couple of balls leave the yard on Sunday. It was nice to see Logan [Warmoth] get a hold of one and Tyler Lynn - who we thought had a really good at bat on Saturday and came to the ballpark expecting to play on Sunday - and he has really, really worked in the offseason from last year to this year - there is not a lot of difference in our offense. Our players are a year older and veterans and we emphasized to hit the ball with a little more authority. You never know when you hit a ball if it is in the gap and it is not as easy a thing that you can control as people think. We need to hit with more power this year certainly and give us more opportunities to score runs.”

… Would you say that you are more tolerant of the possibility of strikeouts this season in order to take a chance at more power?
“It just depends, it depends on the situation. First and third for instance with one out. We want a guy early in the count to try do some damage - certainly to hit a fly ball and stay in the middle of the field - and when you get two strikes on them you have to be really careful about just sticking the bat out there and move the ball. Next thing you know you hit into a double play and you don’t get a run at all. Sometimes, strikeouts are better than a double play. That depends on what the guy behind you - the next guy - does of course. We still value on base percentage and especially in some spots in the batting order. We have to get some on base percentage guys. That is why the stats are really misleading. For instance you look at Adam Pate’s batting average over the weekend - it was not too good but if you look at his on base percentage .417 is really good.”

Speaking of double plays, the Tar Heels turned three this weekend against one error while breaking in a freshman in Michael Busch who started all three games. How do you assess the state of the defense in the early going?
“Well it is early but that is certainly a big emphasis for us. We have to make plays. Outside of J.B. [Bukauskas] that could strike out 10 or 12 for the most part good teams are going to move the ball and you have to make plays behind them. We made a critical one yesterday in the 8th inning when they decided to let the kid swing when they were down a run and we got lucky and they hit it at us. That was a great turn by Zack Gahagan who has worked hard at second base at that part of his game and I thought that Michael Busch did a nice job at first. We put a lot of emphasis on it and our players know how important it is that we play good defense and the first weekend I think we passed the test.”

How about the starting pitching this weekend and what are your plans for mid-week starters this season?
“Our starting pitching was really good - exactly what we hoped. J.B. goes out there and gives us six solid innings, gives us a chance to win and gets some strikeouts and really limits them. He got some great strikeouts on his slider as they were a predominantly left handed hitting lineup out there. Jason Morgan - typical Jason keeping us in the game. I thought he pitched well. Then Luca [Dalatri], Sunday his first career start as a freshman going seven innings. He has a chance to be good. I think he can pitch better than he did yesterday quite honestly and I think he will. Cole Aker will start for us against Gardner-Webb. Cole is a veteran and a sophomore for us. We are taking these mid-week games as they come. We are not designating a fourth or fifth starter at this point. We are trying to go and get all of these games we can on the weekend and then see who is available and who needs to get out there and who needs to pitch and Cole is the guy for us on Wednesday.”

The Diamond Heels have welcomed back Robert Woodard as the pitching coach, taking over the role from Coach Forbes, and the team seems to have been working on some defensive shifting in the field this pre-season. It appeared to pay some dividends this weekend.
“We did not do it quite as much as an opponent that we are not as familiar with - as, of course, (compared to) our own team (in the pre-season) - but it did save us a run or two on some balls up the middle when we had Logan or Zack playing these guys to the pull side. There is a lot of data, a lot of Track Man stuff and a lot of video. Our kind of analytics team of students here that have bought into giving us a lot of valuable feedback that is available to us now - it is incredible the amount of information you can gather and Coach Woodard being into that and being younger, it is something that we have really bought into. You have to put your second baseman sometime on the left side of the bag and have him make that play and have your shortstop vice versa and put your third baseman in the hole and [Kyle] Datres has to make that throw from short. We have practiced that shift and we have a modified shift and we still want our pitchers to pitch their game and we are going to see how it goes but I am interested in seeing all of the information from those guys today to see how much the shift helped or hurt us.”

The Tar Heels showcased their depth behind the plate this weekend with freshman catcher Brandon Martorano starting on Sunday after Cody Roberts started the first two games...
“Our catching has been sensational. I thought that Cody on Friday was just terrific. I made that statement to the team after the game that he makes blocking balls in the dirt look like a walk in the park. It is one of the most difficult things you can do. It allows J.B. to throw that slider down-and-in to lefties with two strikes. I don’t know how many Cody blocked and got the runner out. Brandon Martorano is a young kid for us who has a lot of ability and we have a freshman on the mound and a freshman behind the plate. Brandon has caught Luca a lot in high school because they both are from the same area and same high school. That was kind of neat to see. I thought Brandon was great yesterday and (got) a big caught-stealing there late in the game for us and a base hit. We have some depth back there which you have to have.”

The atmosphere around the stadium was pretty lively for the opening series. What was your perspective on the early show of support from the Tar Heel fans?
“Probably one of the best ones that I have seen in my time here. Of course mother nature helped with that a great deal when it is 70 degrees in February - with beautiful days, and people have been inside during the winter, they want to get out. I thought the crowds were terrific and they helped us. It was terrific. You had to pinch yourself that it was still February. I think everyone was amazed by it and we are going to try to enjoy it as it looks like it will stay for a while. The whole crowd in on their feet with two strikes and two outs and I thought, ‘Boy I must have slept through February and March and April and we are into May.’ That is what is seemed like - it is bizarre but it is fun.”

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