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Pirate Notebook No. 62
Monday, April 8, 2002

By Denny O'Brien
Staff Writer and Columnist

Brinson, Bunn Emerging as Go-To Guys


Will Brinson thought he had carved his niche in the East Carolina bullpen.  And for good reason.

After spending his freshman season in middle relief, the Greenville native settled in as the Pirates' closer last year, delivering on all eight of his save opportunities. The performance was good enough to garner an All-America selection, an honor most publications predicted he would repeat this season as one of the nation's most dominant closers.

But pitching coach Tommy Eason had other ideas.

"During the fall, we basically set him up to be a starter," Eason said Friday night.  "With the situation that we were in, we needed a fourth guy, even a fifth guy sometimes.

"But by no means is Will our fourth or fifth guy.  He could be our number two or three guy, even our number one.  If he continues to pitch the way he has the past two outings, he's going to have the opportunity to pitch on the weekends."

So far the move has paid dividends.  Going into the Houston series, Brinson boasted a 2-1 record, to go along with two saves and a solid 3.51 earned run average.  Opponents were batting just .203 against the hard-throwing right hander entering the weekend.

According to Brinson, the move into the rotation has been relatively seamless, even though starting requires a different mindset than short relief.    

"It hasn't been that big of an adjustment," Brinson said.  "You've still got to throw in and out.  You've got to mix your pitches up well, and you've got to know your hitters.

"I guess intensity-wise, it was kind of an adjustment, though.  When you're coming in as a closer, you've got to have a little bit more intensity.  You let it all go in one inning.  When you're in a starting role, you make the adjustments as the game goes along."

Early in the season, Brinson performed unlike the overpowering pitcher that singed opposing batters last year.  In relief duty, he squandered a six-to-five lead against Old Dominion, yielding four runs on three hits and a walk in one-third of an inning.  Just 11 days later, he surrendered two runs in three innings against TCU, icing a Horned Frog victory.

Lately, though, Brinson has been virtually unhittable.  In his last two starts, he propelled the Pirates to victories over Campbell (2-0) and Elon (4-0) in shutout fashion, and appears to have recaptured that All-American form displayed last season.

"Some guys have a tendency to start off strong, and some start off slow," Eason said.  "I think Will started off kind of slow, and he's worked his way back to the form he's used to pitching at.

"If he continues to work, he's going to help us tremendously as a starter.  He's also going to play a reliever role, and I think he'll do anything to help the team."

Bunn Saves the Day

Easing Brinson's transition as a starter has been the emergence of Greg Bunn as the Pirates' closer.  A true freshman, Bunn leads the Pirates with three saves, and boasts a 0.96 earned run average.  In nine and one-third innings, the Wake Forest native has recorded 14 strikeouts, while surrendering just three hits.

On Friday, he delivered his gutsiest performance to date, closing out the fifth-ranked Cougars amidst intense pressure.

"Greg has done a great job," Eason said.  "We tried to start him off in an easy situation, and each time the situations have brought more pressure.

"There are going to be nights where he is off, and I hope there are not too many of those nights.  But, we've got other guys on the bench that can pick up the ball and do that job also.  If he continues to do it, we'll continue to give him the ball."

The Pirates' fifth-year pitching coach obviously has confidence in his flame-throwing freshman.  After one and one-third innings of shutout ball by Neal Sears on Friday, Eason pulled the veteran set-up man in favor of the rookie closer, despite a few grumbles from armchair coaches in the stands.

"If he would have come in and blown it, I guess I would have had to taken the blame, but that's baseball," Eason said.  "You base everything on percentages.

"Yeah, it's a tough call because Neal (Sears) did a great job and did everything that we asked of him.  I just thought it was time to give them a different look.  Greg was that guy."

Grant No Rookie   <<< Top of Page >>>

When it comes to the silver screen, Beth Grant is certainly no rookie.  An accomplished thespian, she has appeared in more than 40 feature films, including headliners A Time to Kill, and most recently, Disney's The Rookie, in which she portrays the mother of former major league pitcher Jim Morris.

On Friday night, Grant, a graduate of East Carolina, took her talents to the mound, where she hurled the ceremonial first pitch of the opening game between the Pirates and Cougars.  The toss, which she described as her "fast ball," traveled about 55 feet before being corralled by ECU catcher Clayton McCullough.

"Wasn't that just terrible?" Grant said.  "I was over here, over there, just all over the place."

In town to help raise money for her alma mater, Grant said following the game that she will stick to acting, noting flaws in her pitching delivery.  Considering her performance alongside star actor Dennis Quaid and the success The Rookie has received at the box office, that's probably a wise choice.

Kiper High on Henry   <<< Top of Page >>>

When it comes to the NFL draft, no opinion carries more clout than that of Mel Kiper, Jr.  The long-time ESPN analyst is rarely wrong when it comes to pinpointing which college stars will make it at the next level, and which won't.

In his latest column in ESPN The Magazine, Kiper listed four players at each position who will likely be selected in rounds three-through-seven, but will "make any team — and a difference."  ECU standout Leonard Henry was among the running backs mentioned, and figures to be selected in the fifth round, according to Kiper.

Though fifth-rounders aren't promised roster spots, they generally earn favor with their coaches for reporting to camp early while lottery picks negotiate contracts.  Coincidentally, of the NFL's top four rushers last season, zero were drafted in the first round.

Committee Taking Time   <<< Top of Page >>>

Several names have surfaced in the past couple of weeks as potential candidates to replace former women's basketball head coach Dee Stokes.  Included are interim head coach Gene Hill, Nebraska head coach Paul Sanderford, and former ECU head coach Cathy Andruzzi.

East Carolina director of athletics Mike Hamrick offered no comment about possible candidates on Friday, and did not indicate when he expected to make a hire.  Hamrick did, however, suggest that the committee was conducting a thorough search, in an attempt to find the right fit for ECU.

Send an e-mail message to Denny O'Brien.

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02/23/2007 01:45:15 AM

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