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Two aces anchor UM pitching staff

Jim Morris knows you can win with speed and you can win with power in your lineup. He's done it both ways with the Hurricanes. But the one ingredient the veteran of 27 seasons knows he can't win without is pitching. And at least on paper, the 2010 Hurricanes appear to have one of the strongest veteran staffs in the country.

Eric EricksonIt's headlined not by just one ace, but two veteran Friday night starters: left-handers Eric Erickson and Chris Hernandez. Erickson, back after having missed the 2009 season following Tommy John surgery, has a career 19-5 record with a .327 ERA, 131 strike outs and 34 walks in 30 starts. Hernandez, Collegiate Baseball Newspaper's National Freshman of the Year in 2008, is 18-5 in his career with a 3.20 ERA with 210 strikeouts and 49 walks in 33 starts. 

And their teammates can't stop raving about how good they've looked -- especially Erickson, who spent the 2009 season watching his teammates struggle without a consistent No. 2 option.

"He's way better than he was two years ago," All-American catcher Yasmani Grandal said of Erickson. "He's always had his control. Right now, he has control with a better fastball, better stuff. He's worked on his offspeed and that makes him that much better. Overall, he's just a better pitcher."

Said sophomore third baseman Harold Martinez of Erickson: "He's just as good as everyone said he would be. He spots the ball perfectly, a lot of good off-speed stuff that stays low. He gives you nothing good to hit."

Hernandez, last year's Friday night starter, has received similar compliments after failing to live up to his stellar freshman season when he went 11-0 with a 2.72 ERA. He said he plans to how Erickson pitches on Friday nights and to take plenty of notes. 

“The way we throw, we feed off each other," Hernandez said. "We work together. I’m going to get that great opportunity to watch him throw on Friday nights and really see what the weaknesses are on the other team.”

Chris Hernandez UM pitching coach J.D. Arteaga said both will be on a strict 85 pitch count early on, but believes there is no reason to be concerned with either of his aces getting tired. "All we can go by so far is what he's done in intrasquad and he's had no setbacks," Arteaga said of Erickson. "His arm has been great. His velocity is good. Both him and Hernandez threw five innings last week and showed no signs of getting tired. Like any pitcher, he's going to get tired at some point. If we have to get him out early, we'll get him out early. But I wouldn't think he needs any special treatment than any other pitcher."

> Arteaga said he and Morris "could have gone either way" in deciding which of the two aces got the Friday night starter's role. Morris said Erickson simply showed more consistency. "His stuff is great," Arteaga said. "From the first time E's been on the mound, he's been throwing strikes, which is what makes him who he is, makes him successful.

"He just has to be very consistent in what he does. He doesn't throw real hard, but he throws hard enough. His curveball is not great, but it's good enough. The changeup is a very plus-plus pitch and he throws them for strikes with any count. That's always going to win in baseball."

> Arteaga said Hernandez's struggles last year (7-5, 4.76 ERA) had more to do with the stress he put on himself than the effort he was giving. Still, Arteaga admits, adjustments had to be made. And it appears Hernandez has made them. "He's doing a much better job getting ahead of guys and really being able to use his pitches as an advantage," Arteaga said. "His velocity was down a little bit last year. It's back up to what it was before. The biggest thing with him is not doing too much and just being Chris. Not trying to get everybody out with every pitch he throws. That's what got him in trouble last year."

> The third pitcher in UM's rotation will be sixth-year senior Jason Santana. The 6-3, 215-pound right hander has had three arm surgeries between high school and college. Yet, after going 6-1 a year ago with a 5.40 ERA, Morris said Santana has been as consistent as anyone in the spring and fall. "He's going after people, got a great strike-walk ratio, has pitched well enough to be in there," Morris said. "To me his only question is can he hold up physically, and hopefully he will."

> Freshman left-hander Steven Ewing won the battle with freshman right-hander Eric Whaley for the midweek, No. 4 starter's role. Arteaga said Ewing would likely see some middle relief work this weekend against Rutgers along with Whaley.

> The closer's role was won by senior David Gutierrez, who has big shoes to fill after the departure of All-American Kyle Bellamy. Gutierrez, whose older brother Carlos was UM's closer in 2008, has started 20 games in his career and gone 11-6 with a 4.33 ERA. Arteaga and Morris said he has the ingredients to handle it. Junior left-hander Iden Nazario, who went 7-6 with a 7.26 ERA in 15 starts a year ago in the No. 4 role, will be his setup man. 

"We didn't know what his brother was going to do a couple years ago and he went from the starting role to the closer role," Arteaga said of Gutierrez. "He throws strikes, has good movement. He can field his position, hold runners, do all the things you ask of a closer. As far as whether or not he's going to do a great job, we really don't know until he goes out there in the ninth inning, it's a one run ball game and its a pressure situation. Without a doubt, the toughest inning to throw is the ninth inning. But he's got all the things you need to be successful. So, we'll see once he gets out there."

If Gutierrez struggles, the Hurricanes might turn to freshman right hander E.J. Encinosa. "Stuff wise, he has the best stuff to be the closer on our team," Arteaga said. "It's a matter of getting his feet wet early on. Hopefully, he responds well to pressure in certain situations. If not this year, very soon I could see him being the closer. the guy throws 90-94 with great sink and a big time slider. If he throws strikes and handles the pressure well, we're going to have a good closer on our hands the next couple of years."

> Three pitchers are returning from offseason surgery according to Morris. But only two will likely be back in time for this season: right-handed reliever Taylor Wulf (2-0, 3.24 ERA) and sophomore right-hander Travis Miller (3-0, 4.33 ERA). Morris hopes to get both back by next month. It will probably take a little more time for senior right-hander Michael Rudman, who was 3-0 with a 1.71 ERA last year out of the bullpen. "Wulf is throwing long now, coming on good," Morris said. "[Miller] had [elbow nerve] surgery, but it's a lot less complicated than elbow or shoulder surgery. He's throwing now. We need him in the rotation."

Comments

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If one of those 2 studs falter we are in trouble.

Great baseball reporting, Manny. After the basketball debacles, hopefully the play on the diamond will a welcome sigh of relief.

Carolina cane please do not take this the wrong way put when you post on here about 90% of what you say is always negative. You get down on this school's teams before the season starts, you get down on the players when we do not win EVERYTIME. You get on the coaches when a decission is made that you do not agree on. PLEASE give me a break. Watch this school's teams play. Get behind them and support them. Do not try to second guess whats going to happen. Take the wins and losses in stride and HOPE for the best. Thats how I look at it. We have a good roster in Baseball. The coach is the best in the NCAA. The stadium is really nice and I think this team goes all out in the ACC. But remember the ACC is just as strong in baseball as football maybe even stronger. Get to a regional, then a super, then on to the CWS and like the article talked about step up the game and don't loose twice and bring home another NC in baseball. Sounds easy, writes easy but playing the game is the hard part. As fans we must stand beside our players and not think about what's going to happen if one or two players fail or get injured. Now is not the time to think about that happening. JUST GO OUT AND PLAY THE GAME...HAVE FUN...THROW STRIKES...NAIL THAT DOUBLE PLAY....HIT THAT LONG BALL...Win one for the guy that at the age of 12 sat in the stands and wanted more than anything to be standing on the mound for the U of M. HS was good, just not good enough to take the next step forward.Now I look forward to every year waiting for the next trip back to Omaha. Let's go team Thanks

it's baseball season! can't wait. hopefully we can get back to omaha! go canes.

Good luck to the Cane's on hopefully will be a great year for Cane's Baseball. See you in Omaha and kill those Gator,s. in March. From the birth place of baseball Cooperstown ,Ny

This pitching staff is going to have to carry this team if they are going to get back to Omaha. The staff is going to be very, very good and they have this team has the necessary pitching ingredients in college baseball to win the whole thing. You have to have 2 top end starters to have any chance at winning and going far, its just how it works in college baseball. On the flip side, the offense is going to struggle. No point in beating around the bush here, its just a fact. For this team to win, 2-3 of the guys mentioned above are going to have to break out and have steller years against top notch competition. The ACC is the best conference in college baseball and there are anywhere from 4-5 teams ranked in the top 10 and all are ahead of Miami. The offense is the whole key. If there is no offense the overall team results will end up the same as they did a year ago.

we are NOT in trouble. this is one of the most quality teams in america. we will win, and have a great year. 2010 RINGS well for the canes

Look Wayne, I'm not down on this team, I'm just stating facts. I expect more out of this team whether it be football or baseball. Ever since we've been in the A.C.C we have played down to the competion, especially in football. That's nothing more than stating a fact. I bleed green & orange & being in North Carolina I can't see them but ever so often and believe me when they have traveled to play UNC & Va. Tech, it's the same horror story every time. I've seen it first hand. These teams in the acc shouldn't be on the same field as us in football. There is absolutely no reason why we shouldn't be at worse 6-2 every year. We have the talent, we have the speed, we have the athletes. Our coaching has left a little to be desired but it will get better as long as we can get some longevity out of them. We've had to many positon coaching changes over the past 5 or 6 years to build continuity. Baseball wise I know this team is going to be good, they always are but with losing so many guys from last year, those two stud pitchers we have, have to stay healthy. There are several good teams in baseball in the ACC, which differs from my opinion about football.

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