I know the baseball Canes have been getting the short end of the stick when it comes to coverage in this blog. But I'll try to make it up to you at least in this edition with a Double Play Q&A with second baseman Jemile Weeks and Chris Hernandez, the best hitter and pitcher on the nation's No. 1-ranked baseball team.
Hernandez will get the start again Friday night when St. Mary's College visits for a three-game series. Coach Jim Morris told reporters Wednesday, he's going to leave Hernandez in the Friday night starter role even though sophomore Eric Erickson is now back at full strength. It's not a knock on Erickson -- just some high praise for Hernandez. And its a good problem for the Canes to have.
Q: Before the season started you told me you wouldn't be nervous at all even though you were a freshman and so far you've lived up to it. You are 7-0 with a 2.77 ERA, 71 Ks, 14 BBs and now you are the Friday night starter. Are you surprised at all you've had the type of freshman season you've had?
A: It happened. It came along. I really didn't look at things any differently. It's the same game. Same as pitching on Sundays and Fridays. I just go out there and do my job. And so far my job has been good enough to get the job done on Fridays. And all I'm looking to do is not change anything, stay who I am. I don't want to focus on that stuff because I don't want to get big headed. But I have sat back a couple of times and said 'Wow, I'm having a pretty good year.' I definitely didn't think I'd be No. 1 because we got [Eric] Erickson. But I'm definitely happy with how its turned out. It's gone a lot better than I thought it would have.
Q: Has it been tough getting adjusted to playing at the college level -- especially your studies and your health?
A: It's been an adjustment. I got to stay on top of my stuff, conditioning, working out and my elbow strength to make sure I don't get injured. It's been a little tough adjusting to it. But I'm adjusting to it fine. It feels good. The key with the academics has just been making lists for myself, making sure I turn everything in on time for my classes and get to my class on time.
Q: Tell me what you've enjoyed the most about this season. Obviously last Friday night had to be up there -- 8 innings, 11 strikeouts, 1-0 shutout win over Virginia. But what else have you enjoyed about playing on this team?
A: Friday was definitely a highlight. But so was FSU. I've never played in front of a crowd like that -- that atmosphere where they're all against you was awesome. I didn't want to let it affect me and it didn't. The whole thing has been a real experience. The traveling, the playing and going to school here. I've liked it, I've really liked it. I was nervous my first start. But after I threw that first pitch, from then on, it was just like I was back in high school with better hitters facing me. In the dugout, some of the fun things we do is put the catcher's gear on to get the rally going and things like that. That's always fun.
Q: Tell me about how maybe your experiences playing at Monsignor Pace helped you make this transition easier? I mean, you've played on the nation's No. 1-ranked team before, pitched in plenty of big games and won a state championship as a junior. How did playing at Pace help you?
A: We always played against the best competition. [Coach Tom] Duffin did a great job with that, always playing against the best competition and I think that's what prepped me for this level of ball and definitely the conditioning program got me ready for this. His coaching ability and staying on top of us. I had great experiences and winning state was probably one of the most exciting things I've done.
Q: Where did you play as a kid and when did you actually start pitching?
A: I started off at West [Pembroke] Pines. I started in coach pitch. I played first base and outfield. And then when I got to the level of pitching, about a year later, I started pitching. People saw I could throw the ball for strikes and get outs. From then on it went to pitching. Then, I played with the South Florida Stars and started traveling. We went to Cooperstown [Baseball Hall of Fame]. It was an experience I'll never forget.
Q: Is there a pitcher you compare yourself to?
A: A lot of people compare me to Greg Maddux because I throw all my pitches for strikes. But I really don't look into comparing because I want to be my own person. I do try and follow some of what Johan Santana does. And I want to be there one day, like him, playing on TV.
Q: Can you talk about your pitches and maybe how you are using them differently now in college? Any difference from what you did at Pace?
A: I'm throwing the same thing I did in high school -- fastball, cutter, curveball and changeup. But my changeup has really moved up to be my third pitch. It used to be my last pitch. Now, I'm using it as my third pitch behind the cutter and its actually working well for me. It's getting strikeouts for me now. And I'm even landing it for my first strike. It's a big plus, big pitch in this game. In high school I never really used it. Now, I've been working on it and its working big for me and I really like it. I never really tried to overpower guys in high school. In my junior and senior year, I threw in the 80s. Now, I'm able to touch the 90s and work in the upper 80s and the changeup really works because it keeps them off balance and keeps them guessing. As far as my cutter is concerned, I've improved it with a different grip. [UM pitching coach] JD [Arteaga] helped with it. It really made it sharp at the end and helped me out a lot.
Q: Can you feel the swell of confidence this team has now when you step out on that field? Do you feel like the ace?
A: I think we're going to be confident with everybody on the mound. But it feels good to go out there as the ace. Because the ace you know they have more confidence in you. I always try to work to keep my team my team in the game. I don't really care about the strikeouts I just want to win the game.
Q&A WITH JEMILE WEEKS
Q: Talk about what it meant for you guys to go into Florida State and take two games from those guys? Was it the biggest series win of the season?
A: It was real big. We knew going in we were facing the No. 2 team in the nation and they played us like the No. 2 in the nation. We just went in there understanding what we had in front of us and we played our hearts out and came out with two wins. And it was a big confidence booster for our team. The ending? It was just uncalled for type of actions. But when it comes down right to it, its UM and Florida State and intensity is going to take over.
Q: You guys have been on a roll all season, do you get that feeling of invincibility?
A: We feel glimpses of it. We just never feel like we're out of the game. I think we still have to have that mentality where we believe we're playing for the championship every night. Everybody is out to beat us and we got to prove everyday that we're the best. It's one of those feelings where we know we can win, but we got to prove it.
Q: Can you talk about the way your season has been going considering how much time you missed last year and how much maybe that injury affected you? I mean, you are hitting lights out at .389 with 9 homers and 44 RBI in 40 games. Last year, in 50 games, you were at .298 with five homers and 27 RBI.
A: It's just a big improvement for me all around. It's just being healthy, being able to come to the field and know I can play the way I can play. It's definitely been pleasing to me. But to me, I'd like to finish strong instead of just starting strong and fizzling out.
Q: How often do you get to talk to your brother Rickie [the starting second baseman for the Milwaukee Brewers]? What do you guys talk about? Do you tease him at all because your having such a great year and he's only hitting (.190) right now?
A: We try to schedule talks once, twice a week. We have a conflict every now and then and we miss a talk. But we always try to talk at least once a week. We just have the normal conversation between brothers. Every now and then, we'll get into the baseball aspect of things. He just congratulates me. But we're not going to dwell on it because he's just like me, we're not going to just sit on one game or two great games. Its how you finish. If I hit a home run or go three for four, he'll tell me good job. But we aren't going to throw a party for a few games.
Q: Coach talked to us last week about the grind on academics? He said the new schedule leaves you little time for your studies and homework? Is it tough?
A: He's right. It takes a toll on the academics. If you think about it, if you got five games a week and you get one day off from everything, school is just a portion of that day -- between traveling and practice. I mean you got to really manage your time to accomplish the things you want to accomplish.
Q: Does having the schedule like this help you though as a player to get you into a flow?
A: Definitely. I think it helps you get consistent. Once you feel good one day, you get that same confidence and feeling the next day.
Q: Last question -- so, Jack McClinton tells me you and him are in the same modern dance class. Are you going to be the next South Florida athlete on Dancing with the Stars?
A: I don't know if I could give Jason Taylor a run for his money. He's pretty good [laughter]. Our class, it's just modern dance type stuff. We haven't gotten into the tango or any of that other stuff. But its a lot of fun.
** LISTEN IN: Larry Blustein and I recorded a half hour podcast earlier this week. I got his thoughts on the spring games, who he thinks will shine among the '08 recruits who will be arriving soon and much more. Check out the audio out at The Countdown. By the way, be sure to check out Larry's radio show The Dolphins Gridiron Report on Thursday nights from 8 to 9 p.m. at 560 WQAM. He has college coaches and recruits on the show all the time.