McCarthy’s return brings Cavs hope
U.Va. clinging to final spot as ACC tourney approaches
CHARLOTTESVILLE — After sitting out for two months with an injured left wrist, Virginia junior center fielder Jake McCarthy sought the counsel of his older brother, Joe, before his first game back in the lineup.
Joe McCarthy Jr., a former U.Va. star and current Tampa Bay Rays’ minor leaguer, had some simple advice for easing back into action.
“He told me to hit the ball up the middle,” Jake McCarthy said. “That’s what he said. He said, ‘Don’t try to pull it.’”
His older brother’s advice paid off. In his second at-bat of Monday night’s win over Georgia Tech, the younger McCarthy lined a single into center field. He finished 2 for 3 with an RBI, then drove in two more runs the next night, in U.Va.’s 11-3 loss to Richmond.
“It’s just good to be back,” McCarthy, arguably the team’s top professional prospect this year, said. “Obviously you don’t want to be sitting on the bench for two months. It got pretty frustrating. To be back, it was just almost a sense of relief.”
McCarthy injured his wrist in the team’s 12-1 home win over Davidson on March 6 and expected to miss 6-8 weeks. He got his cast off on April 2 but, while he was able to run and throw, swinging a bat left him sore the next day.
Virginia waited for the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Pennsylvania native to be able to bounce back painfree a day after a batting practice session. While it waited, it struggled to a 26-21 record, including a 9-16 mark in ACC play.
It goes into the final series of the regular season, a three-game set at Wake Forest starting on Thursday, holding on to the last spot in the ACC tournament. Its 14-year string of
consecutive NCAA appearances is very much in jeopardy.
But McCarthy’s return to the lineup, player and coaches said, could a be a late-season spark.
“He’s very, very talented,” Virginia coach Brian O’Connor said. “He can affect a game with his legs every time he steps on the field. He’s one of the leaders on this team.
“Certainly the younger players look up to a guy like that because he’s been there before and he’s had a lot of success. And he can continue to spark us.”
McCarthy started all 59 games last season, batting .338 with 5 home runs and 36 RBIs. A preseason All-American this year, he started the first 13 games before the injury, and was batting over .300 again. Like the rest of his teammates, freshman outfielder Alex Tappen said having McCarthy back in the lineup can energize the team going into its final series and then the conference tournament.
“It’s huge,” Tappen said. “You get his defense, his speed on the bases and his bat back in the lineup. It’s the complete package.”
McCarthy batted sixth in his first two games back, the win over Georgia Tech and the loss to Richmond, but O’Connor indicated that, as McCarthy gets more comfortable, he could slide up in the order.
“I think he’ll get better as the days go on,” O’Connor said after Monday’s game. “It’s always tough when you come out after being off for 10 weeks and you’re facing an ACC-caliber pitching staff. I thought he went up there and was aggressive, took some good swings, so good to see him back in the lineup.”
Virginia outfielder Jake McCarthy missed 34 games because of a wrist injury, returning on Monday.
VIRGINIA AT WAKE FOREST Thursday: 6 p.m.