Moran’s third homerun of the season came on a hanging curve ball by Winthrop lefty Mitchell Knox on a 1-1 pitch. That solo shot tacked on the final run in No. 10 North Carolina’s 2-0 victory on Wednesday.
“I got lucky he hung a pitch and I was lucky enough to put a good piece on it,” Moran told reporters following the game. “It felt great. I probably watched it a little too long, but it felt good to be back out there. It felt good running around the bases.”
Moran (2-4, 2 RBI, HR) returned to the lineup just two days after being cleared to play. The Rye, N.Y. native suffered a fracture of the fourth and fifth metacarpals in his right hand on Mar. 24 and had surgery three days later.
He was given permission to hit off a tee on Apr. 19 and faced lived simulated pitching on Sunday for the first time since his injury. The training staff only allowed Moran to swing at a set number of fastballs since he had yet to be fully cleared.
“There’s definitely been some rust,” said Moran, who wore a hand pad during the game. “I think I got a good amount of the rust out of the way once the doctor cleared me to hit off the tee and he cleared me to take some groundballs. I think the last week has been a big help because my hand has gotten a lot better and it feels great now.”
UNC head coach Mike Fox penciled his third baseman back into the three-hole immediately following his clearance on Monday. With only three weeks remaining before the postseason begins, there was little time available to make a gradual transition.
As it turns out, that transition period was not required, anyway.
“You saw what he did tonight,” Fox said. “He’s just one of those kids that I think can roll out of bed and hit.”
Fox has taken the opportunity in recent weeks to rib Moran publicly about how he broke his hand. During the 3-1 loss to N.C. State on Mar. 24, the combination of a poor at-bat and a fielding error prompted him to take out his frustration on a mahogany door in the underbelly of Boshamer Stadium.
“I’ve been getting a lot of heat about that from my family, too,” Moran said. “If you go back there, you’ll see the door doesn’t have a scratch on it or anything, so I think it’s safe to say the door won that fight.”
It’s telling, however, that even Moran’s strong return on Wednesday failed to mask the offensive woes that have plagued North Carolina for the past month. Facing a freshman right-hander that entered the midweek contest with a 1-6 record and a 7.40 ERA, the Tar Heel lineup tallied just three singles outside of Moran’s production, and only one of those hits escaped the infield.
“We’re probably still out there playing if [Moran’s] not cleared because it’s probably 0-0,” Fox said. “… We’re going to have to do more offensively certainly than Colin or we’re going to struggle down the stretch. We can only ask so much of our pitching. We’re just hitting too many balls in the air.”
Moran suggested that the recent offensive ineffectiveness could be due to his teammates trying too hard to produce while he was sidelined.
“I think some guys are maybe putting a little too much pressure on themselves, which is natural in baseball because it’s so hard to hit,” Moran said. “Baseball is one of those things where you go up and down. A lot of guys once they start hitting, which they will because they’re good hitters, will be fine.”
Moran’s return will certainly allow for a sigh of relief.