DURHAM, N.C. — Karl Kuhn, conveniently located behind Brian O’Connor while the Virginia coach was answering the question Monday at old Durham Athletic Park, placed his hands on his head and shook it.
How much will this week challenge your pitching depth, and how do you expect to manage it?
“I’m not really worried about the pitching depth right now,” O’Connor said without hesitation. “That’s Coach Kuhn’s responsibility. He’ll get that figured out.”
Seventh-seeded UVa (33-19) will begin its quest for a third ACC Tournament title since 2009 when it takes on 10th-seeded Georgia Tech (32-22) in one of two league play-in games at 11 a.m. Tuesday.
A win means the Cavaliers will enter pool play, guaranteeing them at least four games this week.
No wonder that O’Connor is pushing that threat off on his pitching coach. It will be some challenge.
“We’ll go at them [Tuesday] with everything we need to win the game,” O’Connor said. “And then we’ll adjust on.”
First things first: Virginia is starting Josh Sborz on Tuesday.
The versatile right-hander was named second-team All-ACC on Monday mostly for his work as the Wahoos’ closer this season. He’s tied for the league lead with 12 saves, a pretty impressive accomplishment considering he’s been all but out of that bullpen role since late April.
As has been well-documented, the Cavs lost ace Nathan Kirby on April 17 and potential weekend replacement Derek Casey four days later, forcing O’Connor, Kuhn and company to mix and match a rotation.
They decided on moving Sborz to a Sunday slot. The junior stayed there for two outings (allowing just three runs over 13 innings against N.C.State and Duke) before returning to the ’pen to close out an ACC Tournament-clinching win over North Carolina over the weekend.
“I kind of just knew I was going to throw,” Sborz said after UVa’s 6-2 win Friday. “I didn’t know when, so I was just prepared for anything.”
His appearance lasted just 39 pitches over two innings, making him a viable option to start this week’s opener over new No. 1 Connor Jones, who tossed 126 times over a career-high eight innings (seven hits, one run) in Thursday’s 2-1 win in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
“He’s our most rested pitcher,” O’Connor said of Sborz, who’s 2-2 with a 2.49 ERA this season and 11-6 with a 2.53 ERA in his career. “So I think he’s going to go out and give us a good quality start.”
A win Tuesday and the ’Hoos would next take on second-seeded Miami at 3 p.m. Wednesday, followed by an off-day and then an 11 a.m. clash with third-seeded Notre Dame on Friday and a 7 p.m. Saturday date with sixth-seeded N.C. State.
Jones and Brandon Waddell, both of whom have gone at least six innings in their last three starts, would obviously reappear if the week continues.
But starting options beyond that are limited.
Kirby (strained lat) and Casey (elbow) remain unavailable, meaning this staff might really have to stretch things if Sunday’s championship arrives on the schedule.
“We’ll be fine,” O’Connor said. “We’ve had guys step up the last two weeks and we’ve been able to figure it out. This week will be no different.”
Virginia has won six of seven games, recording a 3.23 ERA in that span.
Jones, Waddell and Sborz have a combined 1.89 ERA in that span.
“It’s huge,” said senior third baseman KennyTowns. “The way Waddell, Connor Jones and Sborz have been throwing, it’s going to be big for us.”
Then again, UVa beat UNC, 8-2, on Sunday with a combination of Adam Haseley, David Rosenberger and Kevin Doherty.
The Cavs might be playing well enough that it won’t matter who’s on the mound.
“We’re really starting to play some really darn good baseball,” O’Connor said.
Georgia Tech took two of three from Virginia in April, but was outscored, 21-19, in the Atlanta series. ... The Cavaliers are 54-67 all-time at the ACC Tournament, including a 23-13 run since 2004 under O’Connor. ... UVa reached the 2005 title game as the seven seed.