Illinois starting pitchers Kevin Johnson and John Kravetz will have different roles when the No. 3 seed Fighting Illini (34-18) face No. 2 seed Georgia Tech at 1 p.m. today in the NCAA Nashville Regional.
Kravetz, the No. 2 starter, will pitch on Saturday against either No. 1 seed Vanderbilt or No. 4 East Tennessee State.
Johnson, who holds the program record for innings pitched in a career with 334, will not see any action. He hasn't pitched in two weeks due to a right forearm strain.
It will be tough, but Johnson, The Times 2009 Illinois Player of the Year, said he will be there for moral support.
"I will be there to support my team and root them on," Johnson said. "We're excited to to be playing in the regional."
He was selected by the New York Yankees in the 31st round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft in 2012, but did not sign a contract.
Johnson was a three-year No. 1 pitcher and has the most career starts on the Fighting Illini staff. He finished this year with a 6-3 record, a 3.22 earned run average, 44 strikeouts and 18 walks.
Kravetz (5-2), The Times 2011 Illinois Player of the Year, leads the team in innings pitched with 86 1/3 and has a 3.96 ERA. He has struck out 46 and walked 23. He is excited about Illinois making its second NCAA appearance in the last three years.
"We didn't know if we would get in, but we got really loud when we saw it on TV," the Lansing resident said. "I think we are playing pretty well and we would like to have some success."
Kravetz's success came in the latter part of the year. He said he struggled early against Purdue, Indiana and Ohio State.
"I'd go 4 1/3 innings and give up five runs, five innings, give up four, six runs," Kravetz said. "It was frustrating, but I knew not to let it bother me. I worked on some mechanics, but the key was in the mind. You do not try to make up a bad inning because you can't. You move on."
He was faced with the same dilemma in a late April start against Northwestern when the first two batters reached base.
"I just told myself to pitch and we got a double play," Kravetz said. "We get three runs and I felt so comfortable on the mound."
Nearly the same thing happened in a Big Ten tourney game against Michigan, when he hit the first batter then gave up back-to-back singles. He got out the jam and had a career-high seven strikeouts and went 7 1/3 innings for the win at Target Field.
"It was a gutsy performance by John," Illinois coach Dan Hartleb said in a post-game news release. "The momentum was in Michigan's favor in that first inning, but he turned it right back around into our favor. Our guys really fed off that."
Kravetz said he feels good about Saturday.
"I just want to go out and pitch my game," Kravetz said. "I will be relaxed."