NCAA baseball, pitch counts, Ethier

Talking baseball while wondering how Jonathan Quick will respond after his early exit in Game 2.

1. Survival instincts can bring out the best in people, and the worst. The latter was on display last night in elimination games in the NCAA baseball playoffs, the one involving the top-seeded North Carolina Tar Heels in particular.

Pushed unexpectedly hard by Florida Atlantic in a regional in Chapel Hill, Coach Mike Fox turned to ace Kent Emanuel to work relief only two days after he had allowed Emanuel to throw 124 pitches in a start. He did this even though Emanuel is a junior who carries big expectations into the draft later this week.

Baseball America ranks Emanuel as the 61st best prospect, meaning he could be taken at the end of the second round Thursday night. He sure didn’t look like that promising of a prospect Monday night, however, throwing mid-80s fastballs and, at one point, getting a strikeout with five consecutive changeups.

That’s an act of a desperate pitcher, and Emanuel was that. He had nothing but Fox left him in to throw 51 pitches over 1 2/3 innings as the Tar Heels tried unsuccessfully to hold onto a 6-2 lead. They couldn’t, with the big blow being a grand slam homer off Benton Moss, a starter who was working on two days’ rest.

The urgency to win often gets college coaches to do crazy things in playoff games. In the championship game of another regional, Rice University coach Wayne Graham gave a start to reliever Zech Lemond. He had averaged 2 1/3 innings during the season but Graham left him in for 6 2/3 against Oregon, and then brought in his ace, Austin Kubitza, on two days’ rest to close out a victory. Kubitza (seven) and Lemond had combined to work 11 innings on Friday.

The game that big-league general managers still talk about came four years ago, when Boston College and Texas played 25 innings in an NCAA regional. Mike Belfiore, the BC closer who had worked one inning the day before, stayed in the game for 9 2/3 innings, throwing 129 pitches. But Augie Garrido, the Texas coach, topped that. Austin Wood had thrown 30 pitches and two innings the day before, but Garrido let him throw 169 pitches over 13 innings.

Wood would need shoulder surgery the following season. But Garrido has no regrets about extending him so far in that playoff game. "He obviously was pitching the game of his life," Garrido said in a 2011 story. "It's one of the things I talk about when I talk about baseball being a magical game."

In that story, Wood says he doesn’t blame Garrido and said that moment is “the best thing that’s happened to me.’’ His coach let it happen.

"I think people are capable of doing amazing things,’’ Garrido said, “and I feel responsible for giving him that chance.’’

Wood was a fifth-round pick in the 2009 draft but is out of baseball already. He spent the spring in Austin taking classes and assisting Garrido with the Longhorns. Belfiore, now a Triple-A reliever with the Orioles, was the 45th player taken in the draft that year but at least one team acknowledges dropping him on its draft boards after the 129-pitch outing against Texas.

Emanuel has won as much with his skill as his stuff at North Carolina but his fastball climbed into the low-90s earlier this year. His stock had to take at least a little hit last night, although executives say he’ll hold up fine in the draft because he’s considered such a smart pitcher.

Here’s the scary thing, though. The Tar Heels won in 13 innings to advance, so who knows what will happen next weekend with a spot in the College World Series on the line.

2. Kyle Peterson, a former first-round pick from Stanford who pitched for the Brewers, believes that the NCAA needs the same kind of hard limits for college pitchers that are used in events like the World Baseball Classic and the Little League World Series. He and Baseball America’s John Manuel, who was doing color on the ESPN telecast, did a great job in calling out Fox for going to Emanuel out of the bullpen. Peterson points out that college players are extremely competitive and that pitchers will always tell their coaches they can do the job. “You can’t ask the pitchers,’’ said Peterson, who should know.

3. The White Sox losing streak has reached seven games and the guy who is most to blame, former GM Ken Williams, is reportedly off scouting prospects for the upcoming draft. He dumped a big mess on his replacement, Rick Hahn, and second-year manager Robin Ventura. The Sox have to decide if they are willing to consider a major rebuild, like the ones the Cubs are making. If the answer is no, then Hahn should see if the Dodgers will trade them Andre Ethier for Adam Dunn. That would open a permanent outfield spot for Yasiel Puig, who had two hits and a dramatic outfield assist in his big-league debut. The Dodgers could decide over time if they want to keep Dunn on the bench or release him. Maybe the White Sox could bring the Astros into the deal and make it a three-team trade that sends Dunn to his hometown. He could get his hacks as the Astros’ DH, giving Houston fans one big name to come watch while their team rebuilds. Ethier comes with a long, over-sized contract (average $17 million a year through 2017) but he would allow the Sox to shop Alex Rios for a trade at the deadline and give Hahn at least one outfielder to build around. If the Sox aren’t going to tear it down to the studs and rebuild – as they probably should – Ethier is worth considering.

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