Tar Heels' Emanuel suffers rough stretch

acarter@newsobserver.comJune 17, 2013 

NC State, UNC, North Carolina, College World Series, Omaha, CWS

UNC's Kent Emanuel (41) pitches in the first inning during N.C. State's 8-1 victory over UNC in the College World Series Sunday, June 16, 2013, at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Nebraska.

ETHAN HYMAN — ehyman@newsobserver.com

— Not long ago, Kent Emanuel walked into the video room in the baseball offices at North Carolina. He sat down and watched himself up on screen, and he paid close attention to his pitching mechanics.

It was an unusual thing to do for Emanuel, the Tar Heels’ junior left-hander. He had never studied himself on film.

Emanuel on Saturday spoke with hope about how the video session helped him. His performance against N.C. State on Sunday, though, again raised questions about why he continues to struggle.

Emanuel surrendered five runs, all earned, during UNC’s 8-1 loss against the Wolfpack. He pitched 2 2/3 innings, and for the second consecutive start didn’t make it out of the third inning.

These kinds of struggles are rare for Emanuel, the ACC Pitcher of the Year. They’re so rare, in fact, that they’ve never happened before. His past two starts are the shortest of his career.

“When Kent doesn’t have the command of his off-speed pitches like he normally does, you know, that’s his strength,” UNC coach Mike Fox said. “To be able to throw his changeup and his breaking ball at any time at any count, keep the hitter uncomfortable, be able to pitch in with his fastball. And he hasn’t had that the last few starts.”

Emanuel struggled from the beginning on Sunday. He walked Trea Turner, the N.C. State leadoff hitter, in the first inning. With two outs, Emanuel then gave up an RBI single to Tarran Senay, the Wolfpack’s centerfielder.

Emanuel was an out away from escaping the third inning, too, when he allowed three consecutive run-scoring hits. Emanuel surrendered all of those hits early in the count.

“The big spots like Senay in that first inning, two strikes, I wanted to go away and I did,” Emanuel said. “I just needed it just a couple more inches to get the swing and miss rather than him being able to get the bat on it and get a single like that.

“It’s just been stuff like that, just not executing in the big spots.”

During his time in the film room, Emanuel said he noticed that he was driving off of his back leg too much, and that it caused a mechanical flaw in his delivery. He said he felt better on Sunday, and that he was able to keep his pitches lower in the strike zone, the way every pitcher prefers.

When he made mistakes, though, the Wolfpack capitalized. Emanuel has allowed at least four runs in his past three starts. He also allowed five runs during a relief appearance on short rest in an NCAA tournament regional game against Florida Atlantic.

Emanuel has dismissed the notion of fatigue. He has insisted his arm isn’t worn. As recently as May 23, he pitched eight innings and allowed no runs in a victory against Miami in the ACC tournament. Since then, though, Emanuel hasn’t resembled the pitcher he was earlier in the season.

Fox on Sunday offered few clues about who might start for the Tar Heels in an elimination game on Tuesday. He planned to wait until after LSU’s game on Sunday night against UCLA. Benton Moss, the sophomore right-hander, has been UNC’s No. 2 weekend starter. Hobbs Johnson, a junior left-hander, has been the team’s third starter.

Both struggled during the Super Regional last weekend against South Carolina. Another option is Trent Thornton, the freshman reliever who started at times earlier in the season. Thornton hasn’t allowed more than three runs in any of his 28 appearances this season, and he has pitched well in the NCAA tournament.

Emanuel, meanwhile, hoped this wasn’t his final start of the season. He left Sunday wanting another chance.

Carter: 919-829-8944 Twitter: @_andrewcarter

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