GREENSBORO, N.C.—After North Carolina used six pitchers in a dominating 6-0 win against Wake Forest on Wednesday night, an entertaining UNC coach Mike Fox had some fun with the media about his bullpen usage.
"As we've done all year long, we go to our bullpen, and kind of mix and match, and drive y'all crazy, but we don't really care about that," Fox said with a playful smile.
He returned to the topic a little later.
"We've got guys down there we haven't used in a while, and we like to use our pitchers," he said, explaining UNC's two pitching changes in the ninth inning, which might have induced a few groans in the stands and press box but also helped the Tar Heels escape a bases-loaded jam unscathed. "We feel like our guys have worked hard and they want innings. I know it's late, I know what the score is, I get all that. I'm just going back to the hotel, so it doesn't really matter to me. I enjoy being in the dugout. I know you guys are on a deadline, so I thought about that a little bit at the end. (Another grin.)
"I like to give our guys an opportunity. We have a reputation for that—I like it. I like that guys know they can pitch. We didn't have the right guy in at the end, but we could have gone to a number of guys there. If they had gotten another hit, we'd have made another pitching change. It's just what we do. No apologies."
Nor should Fox make any apologies. UNC puts a winning team on the field year after year, partly because the coaches know how to make the best use of their roster and put players in position to succeed.
This year, UNC is blessed with one of college baseball's very deepest pitching staffs. It is a major reason the Tar Heels are in line to earn a national seed this weekend—they can mix and match with a wide assortment of righties and lefties, giving them a huge advantage in the middle and late innings.
UNC held Wake Forest to just four hits in Wednesday's decisive victory, getting 4 1/3 innings out of starter Shane Taylor and then handing the game to the bullpen.
And that bullpen has front-line stars in addition to depth. One of the unit's two anchors, junior lefthander R.C. Orlan, was simply superb Wednesday, allowing one hit and one walk while striking out six over 3 2/3 scoreless innings.
Orlan's ability to thrive in an extended outing against lefties and righties alike is a testament to his development of a full three-pitch repertoire. He has solid velocity for a lefthander, with a high-80s fastball that sometimes bumps 91-92, and he gets plenty of swings-and-misses with his heater.
"His fastball's got life at the plate," Fox said. "You hear that some, but I think his fastball's a little sneaky. Tonight, especially, on some good fastballs, the ball explodes at the plate; I think the hitter thinks he's right on it, and it's got that late life you hear about. He's around the plate for the most part so you have to be ready to swing. His breaking ball's greatly improved, and his changeup is just enough. He's got good balance, and he's fearless."
Orlan said he actually didn't feel like he had his best stuff Wednesday—but it didn't stop him from shutting down the Deacons.
"My fastball was a little inconsistent today, and I didn't locate my slider as well as I wanted to," he said. "But I made some big pitches when I was behind in the count, kept my walks down. (Pitching) Coach Forbes went over Wake Forest before the game and said they're pretty aggressive and keep attacking."
Orlan threw a career-high 62 pitches before exiting in the ninth. Fox said he wasn't planning to use Orlan much Thursday against Miami anyway because of matchups, but added that the lefty will "definitely be ready on Saturday" against North Carolina State.
He paused a beat, then added under his breath with a sly glance at Orlan, "He better be."
That elicited one final round of chuckles before Fox headed back to his hotel, where he will rest easy knowing he just might have college baseball's best bullpen—and he knows exactly how to use it.
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