UM baseball is back in the win column, where a program of its pedigree and prestige belongs.
Its coach, Jim Morris, is happy to be back in the dugout after a nasty infection that resulted in surgery to remove his gall bladder Feb. 25.
Morris, who missed six games because of his physical ailment, is feeling a whole lot better in every way, he told me Thursday while waiting to board a plane to Winston-Salem, N.C. to play Wake Forest in a three-game series beginning at 6 p.m. Friday.
"I feel really good,'' said Morris, who lost 12 pounds in the hospital.
After starting the season 5-8 and dropping out of the rankings, UM has won its last four games -- including a three-game sweep against Virginia Tech in its first Atlantic Coast Conference series -- to stand at 9-8.
Morris explained last week, before the about face, that his team had to start approaching the game differently. He said the Canes needed to "get on top and hit line drives, get on base, run more, bunt more -- instead of trying to hit home runs.'' He said they had to take some pitches instead of immediately swinging.
Morris shook things up a bit by "flip-flopping'' usual third baseman Harold Martinez and freshman first baseman Brad Fieger before the second game against VTech. "I think maybe that relaxed Harold a little bit,'' Morris said Thursday. "He's hitting fewer fly balls and more line drives. Sometimes when you're not winning you have to shake things up.''
Martinez, who led the ACC in home runs last season with 21, was in a horrible slump. But Martinez has recorded a hit in six of his last nine at-bats (with three sacrifice bunts) since moving to first base. His batting average has improved almost 100 points to .245. And lifetime against Wake Forest, Martinez is batting .333
Pitching-wise, UM's biggest unknown before the season, the Canes have been outstanding -- especially their starters. UM has a 2.65 team ERA, which ranks fourth in the Atlantic Coast Conference behind Virginia, Georgia Tech and FSU.
During the past four wins, UM starters gave up one earned run.
Morris also praised left-handed reliever Sam Robinson (1-0, 0.00 ERA in 10 appearances) and left-handed closer Danny Miranda (1-0, 0.93), who have obviously been strong from the pen. "[Right-handed] Sam Sargent (0-1, 3.18) threw well Tuesday night against FAU. We need a right hander throwing well out of the pen, too.''
Wake Forest is 7-9, but took two of three games last weekend against North Carolina (15-3).
"I don't ever remember Wake Forest doing that in at least the past 10 years,'' Morris said. "They're vastly improved.''
No. 7 Virginia (17-1, 3-0 ACC) leads the Coastal Division, with No. 6 Florida State (15-2, 3-0) first in the Atlantic Division. Miami is third in the Coastal behind Georgia Tech (14-4, 3-0) because of its unblemished ACC record.
BOBBY HILL TO RETURN TO CORAL GABLES
Former Canes All-American shortstop Bobby Hill will return to UM next week for the UM Sports Hall of Fame banquet and ceremony on Thursday, March 26. Hill led the Canes to the 1999 national title with a .391 batting average and 52 stolen bases. He is UM's career leader in stolen bases with 139. In 1998, he set a school record with 87 runs scored, led the team with 97 hits and had a batting average of .404.
Hill is in Miami's Top 10 in career hits (253), career walks (166) and reached base in 97 consecutive games. He was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the second round in 2000 and spent four seasons with the Cubs and Pirates. Last season he signed with the Chico Outlaws, a member of the Western Division of the independent North American League.
He resides in San Jose with his wife, Melissa, and their son, Bobby.
"I'm very excited about him being inducted,'' Morris said. "he's going to be in all week and watch all our games. He's one of our all-time favorites because he played hard and loved the University of Miami so much. He was a great leadoff hitter for us, and he always had a smile on his face.''
HALL OF FAME TICKET INFORMATION
Tickets for the Hall of Fame banquet are $85 apiece and can be purchased by calling 305-284-2775 or by going to www.umsportshalloffame.com. Also being inducted are Ian Duvenhage (women's tennis coach), Daphne Jongejans-Bousquet (diving), Tyce Routson (diving), Yolanda McCray (track) and football players Santana Moss, Dan Morgan and Reggie Wayne.
NEXT WEEK'S GA TECH SERIES WILL BE TELEVISED
Georgia Tech at UM baseball will be televised at 7 p.m. Friday, March 25th; 1 p.m. Saturday, March 26th and 1 p.m. Sunday, March 27th, on CSS -- Comcast Sports Southeast
--SUSAN MILLER DEGNAN