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Bullpen biggest question mark heading into Canes' baseball season Morris says

CORAL GABLES -- Normally, interviews at the University of Miami prior to the start of baseball season begin with the same question for coach Jim Morris: Is this Hurricanes team good enough to get back to the College World Series?

Jim MorrisThat didn't happen Tuesday. Morris, whose team opens the season a week from Friday at home against Rutgers, wasn't asked about Omaha until he was nearly done answering questions. Why did it take so long?

"Probably because a lot of our guys don't know where Omaha is -- except me and [sixth-year senior pitcher Eric] Erickson," Morris joked. "We haven't gone there much lately. We went there 11 out of my first 15 years and only once in the last five years. As a coach, you always feel you have a chance to go to Omaha if you play well. I think this club has a chance. That's all you want -- a chance.

"If we develop these guys and get a few breaks -- we've already had a couple with Eric and [catcher Peter] O'Brien -- we can get there."

The Hurricanes, who finished 38-23 and lost to national runner-up Florida for the third year in a row in regionals, have reason for optimism.

In addition to getting a healthy veteran in Erickson back for a sixth year (23-6, 3.08 ERA, 221 2/3 IP, 178 Ks, 40 BBs in three healthy seasons), all four of the team's starting pitchers from a year ago are back. 

Junior right-hander E.J. Encinosa, a freshman All-American who struggled last year as a starter (5-6 with a 3.45 ERA, 70 Ks, 33 BBs), will be going to the bullpen and will serve as the team's closer. But junior right-hander Eric Whaley (7-5, 2.70 ERA, 82 Ks, 22 Bs), junior left-hander Steven Ewing (8-2, 2.66 ERA, 77 Ks, 23 BBs) and sophomore left-hander Bryan Radzewski (9-2, 3.55 ERA, 92 Ks, 37 BBs) will be back in the rotation. Morris said Tuesday he isn't sure what order they will pitch in yet, but he's confident his rotation is the team's strength.

"It could be as good as any rotation I've had since I've been here," Morris said. "Ewing won [eight] games last year. [Whaley] was our No. 1 guy for most of the year. B-Rad ended up our No. 1 guy. Those are good, quality guys. That's important for us because we're not going to score that many runs early."

"We just have to get our bullpen settled. Got to have those seventh, eighth, ninth inning guys set."

With left-hander Sam Robinson, right-hander Travis Miller and closer Danny Miranda, UM had a solid trio in the bullpen. All three are gone now and Morris said he has "two or three young guys battling" for reliever spots. So far, junior college transfer Eric Nedeljkovic, a right-hander, appears as though he could be the setup guy. "He has good stuff, is a good athlete and can do it," Morris said.

Morris said his plan is to develop the bullpen early in the season and that he won't let his starters go deeper into games just because relievers could struggle early. "We're going to give them the opportunity early," Morris said.

CORNER INFIELD SPOTS IN FLUX

As for the Canes' lineup, that remains a bit in flux as well -- especially at the corner infield spots. Juniors Stephen Perez (.263, 0 HR, 31 RBI, 14 SBs, 15 errors) and Michael Broad (.248, 3 HRs, 31 RBI, 4 errors) are battling hamstring and knee and back injuries, but Morris said he expects them to be in the starting lineup at shorstop and second base respectively for the opener.

First base, Morris said, remains a three horse race between sophomores Brad Fieger (.280, 2 HRs, 29 RBI last season) and Scott Wiebel, and freshman Esteban Tresgallo. At third base, Morris said University of Florida transfer Tyler Palmer is competing with Wiebel and Fieger for playing time. "Whoever ends up hitting is who is going to end up playing at those corner spots," Morris said. "We're not getting a lot of offense out of any of those guys at the moment. And those are spots where you need offense."

SANTOS IN-LINE TO START IN CF

Morris said one person who is hitting the ball well this spring is redshirt freshman Julian Santos. The Miami Killian grad is leading the team in hitting with a .563 average in practices and has struckout just once according to Morris. Santos tore his left ACL and MCL two weeks before enrolling as a freshman and then tore his right ACL and MCL in his first game back last March.

"I never had a player work for a year to play and the day he's cleared to play he comes back and blows out the other knee," Morris said. "I remember calling him that night because I felt so bad for him. He told me it was just another bump in the road.

"When he came back this fall, though, he struggled. I told him 'Geez, you aren't making any progress, you better turn it up a notch or your not going to play.' I don't know what that did, but he came back this spring and was ready to play."

Morris said if the season started today Santos would hit leadoff and start in centerfield. The rest of his outfield? Morris said sophomore Dale Carey, who made that crazy SportsCenter Top 10 catch in the regional loss to Florida, junior Chantz Mack and senior Rony Rodriguez will split those spots, with Rodriguez likely to serve as the designated hitter when he's not in left field.

"Those guys are all hitting about .200 so far this spring," Morris said. "But they've proven they can hit before so they'll be fine."

Morris said Rodriguez (.308, 13 HRs, 44 RBI) will probably hit right behind or in front of O'Brien, the Bethune-Cookman transfer who hit .304 with 14 home runs and 69 RBI last season. Other than hitting Santos in the leadoff spot, Morris said he's not sure where anybody else will hit just yet.

MORE TIDBITS

> Morris said if Broad and Perez aren't ready to start the season, freshman Jarred Mederos would start at shortstop and freshman Alex Fernandez Jr. would start at second base. "Alex has improved a lot as a hitter since this fall," Morris said. "He's pitched good too."

> The Canes are ranked 13th in the USA Today/Coaches' Top 25 preseason poll. "I'm happy with where we're at," Morris said. "I wish I still had a vote. I really enjoyed voting in it. I'd get the scores on Sunday night and couldn't wait to send my votes in. I'm not sure who is voting now. They don't tell you."

> Aside from the players already mentioned, Morris was complimentary of junior catcher Alex San Juan and freshman catcher Garrett Kennedy. "San Juan has looked good, made some real progress," Morris said. "Kennedy is going to be a good player here."

> Morris said one thing he's noticed about Erickson is that "he's matured a lot."

"I'm sure at times he thought his career was over with after two arm surgeries," Morris said. "Then being forced to move to Tallahassee because that's where your parents live. That's like being forced to go you know where. You can fill in the blank. It's a been a long process for him. Then the process of getting your sixth year of eligibility that wasn't an easy to thing do, a lot of paperwork and a lot of time. But we're very excited for him."

Comments

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Morris better win or he needs to go

I agree. I said a million times last yr. People kept saying no way, youre crazy (or worse), but this bb program should be no worse than at the cws every yr. But this team last two yrs has made ridiculous mistakes, eeror prone and Morris coulnt get these players to play. To lose to florida granted a very very good squad, 3 yrs in a row, is unacceptable, plus they lost to fsu. Anywhere else= hot seat. I say, no cws= morris is done. Done.

Morris is a legend. He went to the CWS 5 times in the last decade. Do you know how difficult even just making the NCAA tourney is? Thats like saying I want to fire the coach that got me to the elite 8 five times in the last decade.

The real problem is recruiting. If you guys knew anything our old recruiting coordinator, DiMale, the man behind all of the CWS teams, left for three years because he had twins. In those three years our recruiting was terrible and look at where we are. Well, he has just been rehired and so far we have four of the top ten high school recruits committed already.

Research before you make stupid suggestions

Championships in baseball correlates to football championships at UM...check the records if u think i'm lying. LEGGGGO Canes!

And look at the recruites we lose to the major league draft out of high school. That hurts when you put in the effort to bring these guys along to a top notch team like the 'Canes and some pro team signs them to a contract right out from under you. A lot of these kids don't think of the opportunity a top education offers. All they see is the opportunity of a few dollars. Many will never see an actual major league game unless they buy a ticket.

so what- LSU, UF, UNC are perennially in the cws. I didnt say win the NC every year. I said, at least go to the cws every year. Otherwise its a flop of a year. Morris may be a legend, but legends decline, and this baseball program has alos declined under him and he needs to be held accountable. Whether its recruiting or coaching, I dont know. CANE STUDENT- please stop being an apologist. that attitude has gotten us nowhere in football and baseball at the U. Being Number #2 is the first lsoer- unless you were the kind of kid who used to get a trophy for 7th place finish when growing up!

UTrailer has been in the CWS 7 times total. Since 2000, just three times. That is not perennial. National Championships? Zeeeeroo.

Don't dignify that garbage dump of a school.

Hey morbidly obese UMike, you collapsed on a stadium sidewalk and had paramedics all over you. You made some lame attempt at P90X and you are still a ticking time bomb. Yet you still spend every day trolling all the sites. You are the part of the most suffering fan base in all the south. Where does it end fat UMike? Imagine if you put your immeasurable amount of hate towards your health? Or keep trolling and you will collapse once again. The clogs in your arteries are nothing to troll about fatboy.

Hey fat UMike, go have your BMI tested today. Take note of where you land on the graph. You are a ticking time bomb who will sooner than later not be around to troll. Nobody will miss you and your disgusting diatribes you disgusting IP buying bag of lard. NOBODY! Troll on fatboy.

Kevin O'Sullivan: younger, smarter, quicker. He is destroying Elmer Fudd. Literally destroying him.

Strange how he is destroying Morris, yet has ZERO rings.

Please, keep being a loser. It is all him and you know how to do.

lmfao @ O'Sullivan

Oh yeah, he's great!

How many rings, turds?

There's a reason you're known as UFailure. Over 100 years of miserable failure, a four year break, now more of the same.

maybe when he is done "destroying" Morris O'Sullivan can steal his rings because that is the only way he will get any.

UTrailer - failure year after year.

Wish Morris would have CWS success this season.Hope the hitting coach can help wake up the bats for some productivity.Hit and run is good but I don t know how much speed these Canes have this season.Maybe Morris needs to demonstrate MORE passion and fire this year.His teams have not seemed as competitive the past 4 or 5 seasons.Team chemistry WILL be very important and hopefully....this season...the Canes show alot more HEART than past so-so seasons on the field.

Football news please. Any news good\, bad madeup I dont care.

Come on guys. Seriously. Criticizing Morris doesnt mean I dont love my canes. I've been supporting the U (baseball and of course fb) since many here on this blog were still sucking on they momma's teets. And I know what it means to be #1. To have a team/ program that is feared by all. This baseball team scares nobody. The players are small and weak. FSU players are gigantic. So are turd players. Pitching? Recruiting? Inexcusable that a huge pitcher was outrecruited from dade to go to turd land. A latin pitcher on top of that!

Morris needs to get his h out of his a. He has been complacent, ala randy Shannon till lightning struck him for sitting around complacent. A fire needs to be lit on everyone. No stoopid errors in the 9th inning when we are leading by one.

Yeah he won a ship, but the U needs to get back into the CWS. Inexcusable that they havent. We'll see. last year they started by losing to Rutgers 2/3 AT HOME!

Get your hands off me you damn dirty Gatr Trash:

GAINESVILLE, Fla. - An elementary school teacher, a University of Florida physician assistant and men from Jacksonville, Lake City and Middleburg were among 21 arrested during a roundup of men accused of soliciting minors online.

The Alachua County Sheriff's Office released details Tuesday morning of what they called "Operation Tail Feather," in which undercover detectives from the Sheriff's Office and Gainesville Police Deparment posing as juveniles on Craigslist and other online sites either solicited partners for sex acts or responded to posts of men looking for young sex partners.

Posted by: DirtyBillies-R-Us | February 08, 2012 at 02:13 PM

Geez bro, give it a rest. Have you read the Herald lately? Crime is everywhere.

let's keep it to Canes Sports.

I agree with Joe and Corpus. Recruiting has been lacking.
If a shortstop at this level of play makes 15 errors,and only hits .260 he should sit. I find it hard to believe there is not a better shortstop out there. I watched Perez and Martinez kick the ball around enough last year. Between the two of them I think they had 30 errors last year. I know Martinez is gone. Perez is back, and he needs to get it together or sit.

Perez is not good enough defensively to play at short. Morris better get back to being detail oriented because it shows he's not been when you watch his recent teams play. He needs to stop living off of his past or he needs to go.

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