It seems as though the last official Hurricanes' baseball game at Alex Rodriguez Park's Mark Light Field was yesterday. And I know those Canes that were there for the 12-2 whuppin' by Missouri State to end the season, preceeded by a 10-2 whuppin' by Stony Brook, couldn't get back on the field fast enough to start their newest campaign.
The 2013 season begins at 7 p.m. Friday against Rutgers. The first two games of the three-game series will be available on ESPN3. In total, 15 games so far have been slated for live broadcasts.
Unfortunately for the Canes, two of their top starters are not ready to pitch yet. Eric Whaley, a 6-3, 190-pound, right-handed senior from Pompano Beach, would likely have gotten the nod for Friday. But Whaley said he has a "tight'' throwing shoulder.
"Hopefully I'll be ready in two weeks,'' Whaley said Wednesday. "I just started throwing about three days ago and it's feeling better every day. Just rehabbing right now and taking the process slowly.''
Left-handed junior Bryan Radziewski, otherwise known as B-Rad, is coming off shoulder surgery and not recuperating quite as quickly as fellow pitcher Andrew Suarez, who also had shoulder surgery. So, B-Rad is unable to go.
That leaves left-handed sophomore Chris Diaz, out of Gulliver Prep, as the Canes' starter Friday against lefty Rob Smorol (8-4, 3.46 ERA in 2012). Diaz was mostly a middle reliever last year, with a 2-1 record and 4.18 ERA.
"I just feel blessed,'' Diaz said. "All the hard work is paying off now."
The UM rotation for Rutgers continues Saturday night with 6-4, 227-pound right-handed junior Javi Salas (6-3, 3.21). Sunday's 1 p.m. finale will have UM sophomore Suarez, a lefty, starting.
"Absolutely excited,'' Salas said. "We have a good team this year.''
Also of note: Freshman David Thompson, who also is a quarterback on the football squad, will likely start his first game as the first baseman, coach Jim Morris told me Thursday. Morris said Chris Barr won the defensive battle at first base, but a groin injury to usual right fielder Chantz Mack will likely keep Mack out defensively, so that shifted the lineup a bit.
As of Thursday, Morris said Mack might be inserted as the DH, with Barr sitting out this game if Thompson plays first. Tyler Palmer would replace Mack in right field, Morris said, if Mack doesn't play defense.
Morris told me things could still change regarding position shifts.
Morris said Alex San Juan will start at catcher.
The Canes are not in the Top-25 in any of the baseball polls, despite having the ninth best recruiting class, according to Collegiate Baseball; and the 10th best, according to ESPN.
"It's a clean slate for all of us, but we definitely have to put our name on the map again,'' Salas said.
Morris said this is one of the hardest working teams he has ever coached, and he said he's looking forward to getting back among the top. Morris will be coaching third base this season, with assistant Gino DiMare coaching first. DiMare was a smart, aggressive base runner when he played at UM, and he will likely bring that same aggressive philosophy coaching first.
* Also on the Horizon for UM fans: Ron Fraser's Celebration of Life commemoration, honoring the UM legend who died Jan. 20. That commemoration is from 4 to 6 p.m. Feb. 23 at the Knight Sports Complex on the UM campus. The Fraser family will be in attendance at the event, which is free and open to the public. after the celebration, fans can proceed to A-Rod Park for the 7 p.m. game against Milwaukee.
SUSAN MILLER DEGNAN