Nathan Kirby hasn’t thrown a baseball in anger in two months. On Friday, he gets his first game action since April 17 in the College World Series against the best offensive team in college baseball in recent memory.
Even if all he can give you is an inning or two, yes, good move.
Without Kirby (5-2, 2.28 ERA, 75L/59.1IP, .233 opponent batting average) being available, UVA coach Brian O’Connor’s options were Johnny Allstaff, maybe Adam Haseley or Alec Bettinger to start, with Kevin Doherty and David Rosenberger in the middle innings to try to get the ball to Josh Sborz, or Connor Jones, the #1 the past eight weeks.
Go the Jones route, and he’s not available for more than an inning or two in the CWS Championship Series, assuming, of course, that you get there, which you have to assume for purposes of laying out what you do Friday and Saturday, if necessary.
Going the Jones route also requires you to go Brandon Waddell in that if necessary game on Saturday, making him unavailable for more than an inning or two next week as well.
The goal isn’t to win one more game to get to next week; it’s to win one more game and then win two games next week.
Best-case scenario with Kirby pitching Friday, obviously, is a Virginia win that leaves Jones and Waddell for Game 1 and Game 2 in the Championship Series.
Worst case with him pitching is a loss, and Jones gets the ball on Saturday, and you win that one, and have Waddell for Game 1 of the Championship Series and figure out the rest from there.
You shouldn’t expect Kirby to be the Kirby that you remember, who gives you seven innings, gives up a run or two and hands the ball to Sborz to finish things out. He doesn’t have to be that Kirby; all he needs to do is be the first guy in Johnny Allstaff. Get an inning, two innings, three innings, and then you can go to Haseley, Bettinger, Doherty, Rosenberger, and basically ride the hot hand to the late innings.
That said, if Kirby goes out and is the hot hand himself, don’t be surprised if he gets to the fourth or fifth.
Basically, whatever he gives you is helpful considering the situation. Even if all he gives you is akin to what Willis Reed gave the New York Knicks in that NBA Finals Game 7.
– Column by Chris Graham