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UNC Baseball: Gianluca Dalatri’s injury hampers the Tar Heels in more ways than one

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The senior starter’s injury hurts the Tar Heels in the rotation, but it also leaves the middle relievers in a tight spot.

NCAA Baseball: College World Series-North Carolina vs Oregon State Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

When Gianluca Dalatri arrived on the scene in Chapel Hill, you could tell he had the stuff to be a bonafide ace for the Tar Heels. It’s not often you see a freshman that had the raw talent he had.

He didn’t just flash the talent in his first season at North Carolina, it was a full-on talent show. Dalatri went 7-3 with a 3.34 ERA in his first season, striking out 85 guys to only 19 walks in 97 innings. That was good enough to land him a consensus freshman All-American spot and a 3rd team All-ACC finish.

Since 2017, Dalatri has only pitched 59 innings for the Tar Heels after being saddled with several injuries. However, when he is on the mound the talent is still ever-present. He still has a 2.75 ERA with 66 strikeouts (10.1 K/9) to only 15 walks in that timeframe. That is elite stuff that would land him in the top rounds of the MLB draft if he could stay healthy. He just can’t stay on the mound.

And now Tar Heel fans will have to wait even longer to see Dalatri take the mound this year, with Inside Carolina reporting earlier this week that he is out indefinitely following a small fracture in his right elbow and surgery to insert a screw.

For a team that lost quite a bit from their starting pitching crew last year (Tyler Baum and Austin Bergner), Dalatri was expected to head up the staff and give them a little bit of experience.

Now it appears, at least for the time being, Joey Lancellotti will be the opening day starter and most likely the ace while Dalatri is out. For a team that was already inexperienced on the frontline of the rotation, things got a bit worse by losing him.

Something else that is worth noting is the fact that Coach Mike Fox, at least last couple of years, has used his bullpen in almost every situation he can, sometimes to a fault. He’s had a short leash on his starters. But with one of the main innings-eaters out of the picture, where is he going to get the support from to make sure the middle relievers do not get too taxed?

I would look at Caden O’Brien as the guy who will likely fill that role. O’Brien struggled in 2019 after a great freshman campaign, but he does have the ability to be stretched out into a multiple inning guy. North Carolina can use that in the middle of games, as well as the 7th and 8th innings where getting four or five outs over two innings is much more valuable than just getting a normal three.

Expectations for the Tar Heels, ranked 23rd in D1 Baseball’s pre-season rankings, will need to be managed in the absence of Dalatri. They just won’t have the experience and depth on the mound to hold up against quality opponents.

But getting a potentially healthy Dalatri back in a month or two would feel like a huge trade deadline acquisition for this team, if trades were allowed in college baseball. Until then, Mike Fox will need to use his bullpen wizardry to keep the pitching staff fresh.