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Georgia pitcher Emerson Hancock (17) takes the mound for the Bulldogs. The Georgia Bulldogs fall to the Florida State Seminoles 3-12 in the NCAA playoffs on June 1, 2019 in Athens, Georgia. (Photo/Daniela Rico)

Georgia pitcher Emerson Hancock fell flat in Friday’s season opener against Richmond. In four innings — an unusually short day for Georgia’s premier starter — he allowed nine hits and six earned runs before giving up the mound.

Hancock averaged just more than six innings per start in 2019. His Friday ERA of 13.5 was a far cry from the 1.99 he posted in 14 starts last season.

A projected top-five 2020 MLB draft pick, Hancock struggled before a host of pro team scouts who stood five rows back behind home plate, diligently clocking each pitch on their radar guns.

But nervousness about the special attention from scouts wasn’t a factor for the right-hander who has been in the spotlight since high school.

“I don’t really see them,” Hancock said. “I know it’s hard to believe, but I just try to focus on [catcher] Mason [Meadows].”

Hancock’s first two innings passed smoothly. He was unfazed following a hit and a walk in the first, returning to the hill in the second to put out three consecutive batters on a handful of pitches. 

While first-pitch swinging kept Hancock’s pitch count in check, the Richmond hitters were starting to catch up to his top-class fastball. A warning-track flyout and a second pop-up to mid-center field were the first cracks in a performance that would shortly break wide open.

The Spiders’ bats displayed less power in the third inning, but what they lacked in distance, they made up for in repetition.

After clipping the first batter of the inning, successive well-placed dribblers yielded infield singles to load the bases. A third weak grounder fell into Hancock’s lap, but the Spiders were able to cash in their first run. A fourth ground ball snuck past a diving Patrick Sullivan at first base, bringing in two more runs and giving the Spiders an early 3-2 lead. 

“The third [was] just bad luck,” head coach Scott Stricklin said. “Three balls off the end of the bat just one after the other.”

While the Bulldogs failed to catch back up in the bottom of the third, Richmond returned to the plate to show off the power they had hinted at early on.

An opening single followed by back-to-back home runs brought Stricklin to the mound. Hancock stayed in the game, but Ryan Webb began tossing in the right-field bullpen.

After allowing another pair of singles, the Georgia ace managed to stop the bleeding. At the end of four innings, Georgia trailed 6-2.

By the top of the fifth inning, Webb had replaced Hancock on the hill.

Webb’s 11-strikeout showing helped keep the Bulldogs in the game as Hancock cheered his teammates from the dugout.

“It felt like it kind of snowballed on me tonight,” Hancock said. “But anytime something bad happens — focus on the next pitch, execute the best you can and that’s all you can really do.” 

Hancock’s last three starts, including his final two 2019 outings against Ole Miss and Florida State, mark his worst performances in a calendar year. Across those three games, Hancock allowed 14 earned runs, tying the number he gave up in his first 12 starts of 2019 combined.

Despite the disappointing 2020 debut, both Hancock and Stricklin remain optimistic about the pitcher’s 2020 season.

“No concern at all,” Stricklin said. “[Hancock’s] got premium stuff. He’s the right kid. He’ll handle it the right way. He’ll go into this work week with a little chip on his shoulder.”

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