Heels Turn to Taylor

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – No. 2 seed North Carolina will start key reliever Shane Taylor in Wednesday's ACC Tournament opener against No. 7 seed Wake Forest.

The sophomore right-hander, hailing from Mullica Hill, N.J., is 5-0 on the season with a 3.09 ERA in 24 appearances. He has two starts to his credit in 2012, most notably a last-minute fill-in for Sunday starter Hobbs Johnson against Duke on May 13.

Taylor tossed a one-hitter in 8.0 innings with eight strikeouts against just one walk in UNC's 3-0 victory over the Blue Devils.

"It felt great to get out there for eight innings," Taylor told reporters on Monday. "It definitely was a confidence booster. I've had kind of an up-and-down year, so it was nice to have that outing."

That performance helped solidify his position as the Tar Heels' fourth starter, but head coach Mike Fox indicated that plan was already in motion prior to the gem in Durham.

"We had that in mind before [the Duke game]," Fox said. "He started some games for us. We like the way he's been throwing – he's a strike thrower. He's confident right now."

Pitching coach Scott Forbes told Taylor that he would get the nod for the ACC Tournament opener during Saturday's regular season finale against Virginia Tech. After hearing the news, Taylor threw in the bullpen at the end of the game.

Despite 48 of his 51 career appearances coming out of the pen, Taylor plans to approach his first postseason start the same way.

"I try not to think about conserving energy," Taylor said. "I just go out there and go as hard as I can right from the beginning and see how far that will carry me."

It helps that he knew early in the season that his role could vary depending on what the team needed.

"I've been preparing all year for that," Taylor said. "Coach Forbes said at the beginning of the year that I could go long or I could go short, so throughout the year I've been preparing for whatever roles. If my role does change, I'll be comfortable with that, but if it stays the same, I'll also be ready."

As for the coaching staff's decision to throw Taylor on Wednesday instead of Thursday or Saturday, that came down to basic pitching rotation management.

"It was pretty easy because we weren't comfortable bringing anybody else back," Fox said. "We weren't going to bring Kent [Emmanuel] back – we weren't going to pitch Kent on Wednesday because we may have to throw him on Friday and we don't want him to go nine days. The rest of them haven't had enough rest."

Forbes' coaching philosophy stresses that his pitchers focus on improving every single day, which Taylor believes he has done.

"My command has gotten a lot better," Taylor said. "I've added a new pitch this year. I've had a slider that's more of a slurve and now the new pitch is the harder slider. So it's just giving me a different look and it's another pitch to keep hitters off balance with."

Taylor is expected to be paired against either Tim Cooney (6-6, 3.65 ERA) or Brian Holmes (7-2, 2.59 ERA) – both lefthanders – on Wednesday.

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