UNC head coach Mike Fox announced the decision during his press conference on Thursday afternoon. Kent Emanuel, UNC’s Friday night ace, will pitch on Saturday and Benton Moss, the Tar Heels’ usual Saturday starter, will throw on Sunday, if needed.
The switch is due to UNC needing all three of its starting pitchers to throw in the late innings of its 12-11 win over the Owls. While Johnson and Moss combined to throw 11 pitches to three batters, Emanuel worked 1.2 innings, throwing 51 pitches after throwing 124 in his Saturday night start.
“What we did with Kent is that I had to make the decision for him,” UNC associate head coach/pitching coach Scott Forbes told reporters on Thursday. “Kent would have pitched yesterday if we had a game. He threw 120 and then threw 50, so four days is what he needs.
“We thought Hobbs didn't throw nearly as many and he's been consistent. He's come off four days twice this year. They've all been on different routines and they all felt pretty good today."
Fox and Forbes drew criticism following Monday’s game for throwing Emanuel on short rest, but the junior lefthander said that extra outing didn’t place any extra stress on his arm. He also said the criticism had been “blown way out of proportion.”
“I think it’s just a testament to our competitiveness and our work ethic to be able to know that our bodies can handle that and be able to be prepared to succeed in situations like that,” he said.
Emanuel added that if the decision were up to him, he would be throwing on Friday.
More interesting, however, is UNC’s decision to start Johnson over Moss on Friday. Johnson pitched on Sunday, while Moss started last Friday against Canisius.
Johnson has been on a tear of late, giving up just six earned runs over his last eight starts. Moss has struggled recently, allowing 18 earned runs and only reaching the seventh inning once over his last five starts. The sophomore righty also gave up a ninth-inning grand slam on Monday.
The Tar Heels have played nine games over the past 15 days, including three that went 13 innings or longer. While that has taxed UNC’s deep pitching staff, the players are able to rest and recover on their own terms.
"There is a lot of flexibility on our staff,” Forbes said. “We take a lot of pride in that and let every guy kind of come up with their own program. What we've done with our pitchers this week is we gave them all Tuesday off with no throwing unless they really wanted to. A couple of them did. Yesterday, guys who did not get on the mound a ton like (Reily) Hovis, Mason (McCullough) and (Tate) Parrish threw bullpen. Moss threw bullpen again to work on his mechanics a little bit.”
Fox’s initial plans for his pitching rotation ultimately may not matter, due to Tropical Storm Andrea. The system is expected to dump upwards of four inches on the Triangle on Friday. If play is postponed until Saturday, Emanuel would start the first game of the series.