Three Things: Houston Dynamos
Carolina baseball took on a big test with three games in Houston last weekend. They took down #12 Rice 2-1, California 11-5, and Texas A&M 14-2. Here are three more takeaways from the weekend:
Options in the infield
Preseason chatter held that sophomore Michael Russell and freshman Landon Lassiter were the presumed starters in the middle infield. One would play shortstop, the other, second base. Indeed, the season began that way, but sophomore Mike Zolk has forced his way into the lineup with quality fielding and timely hitting. Zolk started the second game of a double header against Stony Brook at second base, and since then has held down that position.
Zolk’s story is one of perseverance: he started 30+ games as a freshman a year ago before third baseman Colin Moran injured his hand. Russell filled in at the hot corner and proved his worth in the infield. When Moran returned, Russell slid to shortstop, Tommy Coyle moved to second, and Zolk appeared lost in the shuffle. He kept a good attitude and was valuable as a pinch hitter. This year, Zolk has just gone about his business and made Mike Fox write his name down on the starting lineup.
Which leads to . . .
The DH Platoon
Lassiter started the first two games in Houston at shortstop, but then was used as a designated hitter on Sunday. Against right-handed starting pitching, that spot had been held down by left-handed hitting Parks Jordan, or Brian Holberton (depending on who was playing left field). Lassiter’s consistency at the plate (he’s hitting .452) means the Tar Heels need his bat in the lineup somewhere, whether he’s at second, short, or in the DH spot. Another right-handed hitter, sophomore Grayson Atwood, is available as well from that side of the plate. Mike Fox has a myriad of options, so the Tar Heels can be flexible with the designated hitter.
Tar Heel senior right-hander Chris Munnelly has been a weekend starter, a midweek starter and a long-relief man in his time in Chapel Hill. Sunday, the Tar Heels went to him when Hobbs Johnson struggled out of the gate. Munnelly, one of three Tar Heel seniors, is a leader in the clubhouse and delivered when called upon on Sunday. “That’s important,” Fox said of having an experienced arm in the versatile Munnelly. “We hadn’t used him all weekend, and so we’ve got a senior that we can bring in in a game. That’s huge for us,” he said. “That’s a pretty good luxury we have, to bring a senior in this kind of game, and he’s been on the big stage before.”
College baseball observers know that good teams need more than three starters as the season progresses. They’ll need someone who’s pitched in a number of situations and won’t back down from adversity. In Munnelly, the Tar Heels are fortunate to have someone who’s been there and done that.