After watching their teammate Artie Burns get picked 25th overall Thursday in the NFL Draft, then waiting fruitlessly Friday as the minutes melted away, the draft-eligible Miami Hurricanes had to be getting more jittery by the second on Saturday.
After watching their teammate Artie Burns get picked 25th overall Thursday in the NFL Draft, then waiting fruitlessly Friday as the minutes melted away, the draft-eligible Miami Hurricanes had to be getting more jittery by the second on Saturday.
The Miami Hurricanes open the baseball season this Friday -- Valentine's Day night -- against the visiting Maine Black Bears, a team which won the American East Conference and finished 37-22 last season.
Every year Jim Morris says he's excited about his team and its chances to get back to Omaha for the College World Series. But this year it looks like the Hurricanes actually have the talent to deliver on those hopes.
UM landed its best recruiting class in years and has one of the nation's top starting rotations with junior left-handers Chris Diaz (7-5, 1.64), Bryan Radziewski (9-3, 1.78), Andrew Suarez (3-6, 3.95) and senior right-hander Javi Salas (5-5, 3.18) all returning.
The issue -- as it usually is lately with UM -- will be offense. The Hurricanes finished 11th out of 12 ACC teams in batting average (.257) and runs scored (278) last year. But that's where the freshmen are supposed to come in and help.
First baseman Zack Collins (27th round draft choice in 2013) and right fielder Willie Abreu (14th round), two left-handed bats, are expected to help sophomore third baseman David Thompson (.286, 6 HRs, 48 RBI) provide more oomph in the lineup.
Collins (Plantation American Heritage) and Abreu (Hialeah Mater Academy) grew up huge Hurricanes fans and close friends since the age of six.
Abreu said he used to sit along the third baseline at Mark Light Field and taunt opposing hitters and pitchers and called one of his coolest moments getting a foul ball he caught signed with by the late Ron Fraser. Collins said his thrill was getting on the field as a kid alongside Gaby Sanchez and watching former Canes catcher Yasmani Grandal launch a home run into the third deck of the parking garage.
Collins, by the way, says he's already put a few balls into the same spot Grandal did during practice. One UM coach said Collins has the kind of power Yonder Alonso did.
For more on the Canes baseball team check out the collection of video interviews from today's media day session. I've posted a couple of the best ones here.
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?
That 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.
> 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."
Jim Morris isn't feeling sorry for himself. But somebody ought to give him a hug.
After losing for the third straight year to the rival Florida Gators in the NCAA Tournament, the last few weeks haven't been kind to Morris or his University of Miami baseball team.
Seven of his underclassmen were drafted and six according to Morris (infielder Harold Martinez, outfielder Nathan Melendres, catcher David Villasuso and pitchers Danny Miranda, Sam Robinson and Travis Miller) have already signed with their respective pro teams. Now Morris said he expects the one that hasn't, center fielder and team MVP Zeke DeVoss, to sign with the Cubs when he flies to Chicago on Saturday and meets with team officials.
"We just haven't been very lucky the last two years when it comes to the pro draft," Morris said Thursday. "I was hoping Zeke would come back, but it's probably not going to happen.
"Ultimately, at the end of the day if the pro people want them, they're going to get them. The only thing I can do is offer them a scholarship and tell 'em I love 'em. They can offer them a scholarship, tell them they love 'em and give 'em a million bucks."
The Hurricanes, who finished 38-23 and ranked 24th in USA Today's final college baseball poll, will have to holes to fill over the next few weeks. Morris said that starts with replacing his three best relief pitchers, a center fielder, a first baseman and a catcher.
"The strength of our team is going to be the starting rotation -- we've got all those guys back," Morris said. "We've got Rony Rodriguez coming back, who was our leading home run guy and RBI guy. He made as much improvement as anybody on the team. But we have to improve offensively. Some guys will be good players. We just have to make some adjustments."
Morris is working on that.
In the two weeks since hitting coach Joe Mercandante stepped down after four years on the job, Morris said he's spoken to people across all levels of baseball -- from super agent Scott Boras to general managers and scouting directors, who have all recommended someone for the job. Morris said he's narrowed his list down to five candidates and expects to make a hire in the next two weeks so that the new assistant coach can begin recruiting and evaluating players in the offseason.
"I've been absolutely bombarded with phone calls," Morris said. "I'm trying to make the right decisions based on a lot things. The No. 1 thing is to make our hitters better.
"Some of these guys don't want me to mention names. But I've had quite a few former players who played here and played for me in other places who have applied for a position. It's a hard thing for me. It's hard to talk to some of my former players and say 'No.' I've made some players mad at me over the years. In the end, I have to name one person. This is a very important call for me."
Miami, which hasn't been to the College World Series since 2008, finished 181st in batting average last season (.275), tied for 158th with 5.5 runs a game (333 total) and tied for 98th with 33 home runs. Three of the team's top four hitters won't be coming back. Last season, UM hit .295, averaged 7.5 runs a game (478 total) and hit 106 homers.
UM does have a few talented players who signed National Letters of Intent that could be coming in. Miami Columbus High left-hander Andrew Suarez (a 9th round pick), shortstop Jack Lopez (16th round pick) out of Deltona, right-hander Jace Herrera (36th round pick) out of Apopka and right-hander/outfielder Alex Fernandez Jr. (46th round pick). Morris said he also has verbal commitments from two junior college prospects and a transfer from another four-year program he can't talk about because they haven't signed National Letters of Intent.
But he's not counting on anybody coming until after midnight August 15th, the last day players can sign with the teams that drafted them.
"Last year we lost seven guys in the last 24 hours of that weekend," Morris said. "[Marlins first round pick] Christian Yelich signed at 11:59. At 11:58, we thought he was coming to school.
"I had a kid tell me once they weren't going to sign unless they got $500,000. He signed at the last minute for $75,000. So I never say this guy is coming or that guy is definitely coming. It's frustrating, but I try not to think about it. We just got have a little luck. We have to keep Jack Lopez. We need to keep [Andrew] Suarez. The guys who were drafted, we'll start with those guys and say we need to keep those guys. I'm not saying we will. But we need to."
> One player who definitely won't be coming back is freshman catcher Shane Rowland, who asked for his release. The former Tampa Catholic Aflac All-American started 41 games and hit .175 with one homer and 13 RBI. Morris said Rowland is probably headed to Junior College.
CORAL GABLES -- The last time Hurricanes outfielder Nathan Melendres saw Jim Morris, he and his teammates watched in disbelief from their dugout as their 61-year old coach was taken by ambulance to a nearby campus hospital.
A week later, as the Canes prepare to face No. 1-ranked Florida (7-1) in a three-game series this weekend, Melendres and his teammates got on a bus bound for Gainesville Thursday knowing that at the very least Morris -- who had emergency surgery to remove his gall bladder last Friday -- was finally home resting.
"Obviously great news," Melendres said. "He's a big part of the program. He's the chief of our staff. He takes care of us. We care about him. He cares about us.
"As soon as we saw him in the ambulance getting taken out of here, we were all really worried. We only want the best for him."
Morris, who had been to the hospital earlier last week complaining of stomach pains, expected to be out of the hospital sooner. But complications from an infection kept him in the hospital longer than anticipated.
When will he be able to get back to coaching? Not at least for another two weeks per doctor's orders. For now, it will be rest and relaxation while the struggling 24th-ranked Canes (4-4) try to find their footing after a rough start to the season.
"I'm meeting doctors again on Monday, and we will find out more about how I'm progressing at that time," Morris said in a statement released by the school. "I'm anxious to rejoin the team."
According to acting manager J.D. Arteaga, the team's pitching coach, he's been speaking to Morris twice a day. Arteaga said they talk about lineups and what the two-time national championship winning coach wants the team to focus on in practice.
"It's tough," Arteaga said. "You don't want to bother him when he's not feeling well. But at the same time I try to get as much guidance from him as I can. I know he's anxious to get out here. He's fired up."
The Canes don't need any extra reasons to be fired up for this weekend's showdown against top-ranked Florida. The Gators have knocked UM out of the post-season each of the last two years. In last year's Super Regional, UM committed seven errors in an extra inning loss. It's a game, Arteaga, said still haunts the sophomores and juniors on the team.
"It creates an itch inside you that just bothers you, makes you want to go out there and shove it in their face before they do it again to you," Melendres said of beating the Gators. "Ranked No. 1, No. 10, whatever. They're UF. They've beat us the last two years. There's enough motivation for us to go out there and play with fire."
The good news for UM is they'll have at least one of their best hitters back from injury this weekend. Outfielder Chris Pelaez, who finished second on the team last season with a .314 average, was cleared by doctors this week after straining his left shoulder playing catch in the preseason. Pelaez was available to hit in Tuesday's loss to USF. But Arteaga said it simply wasn't the right scenario.
Pelaez will serve as a pinch hitter Friday against the Gators and likely be re-inserted in the lineup as a designated hitter on Saturday.
"I'm just trying to strengthen it up back to where it should be," Pelaez said of his shoulder. "It's always tough not being able to help the team out and being able to play. Hopefully I'll get back into the swing of things."
The Canes would obviously love to do that against the Gators. Pelaez said after only eight games there is no way the team could be in desperation mode. But Arteaga and his players believe they have to start turning things around soon.
"If we come out and have a strong series, win or lose, it will give us a jump start for the rest of the season," Melendres said. "We just have to come out with attitude, play hard."
After his team beat FAU last Wednesday night, Canes baseball coach Jim Morris opened his post game press conference by showing the women's basketball team a little love for reaching the NIT championship game.
Before he got any further, I threw a little jab his way for fun pointing out how Katie's Meier's club was the first UM team in a while (since the football team in 2002) to play for a postseason championship. "You trying to give me a little [grief]," Morris playfully responded before everyone in the room began laughing.
Even though the ninth-ranked Hurricanes (20-7, 10-2 ACC) own the same overall record at the midway point of the season this year as they did last year, you get the sense these Canes are a much better candidate to reach Omaha.
Improved team chemistry (Morris' No. 1 concern last year); a deeper, healthier, more consistent starting rotation (Eric Erickson's return has boosted the rotation); and a better offensive attack (seven players have scored at least 22 runs thus far) are reasons to feel more optimistic.
"I don't think any team would compare to the '08 team we had," said No. 3 starter Jason Santana, a sixth-year senior who provided a little perspective on this year's team after the Canes' sweep of Wake Forest on Sunday.
"But that being said, this team has a lot of chemistry together. We're a pretty tight knit group... everybody is playing pretty good at their spot. We're just looking forward to the second part of the season."
The second part of the season will be more challenging. None of the four ACC series UM won during the first half of the year (Boston College, Duke, N.C. State and Wake Forest) were played against teams with winning records in conference play. But four of the final six conference series -- Virginia Tech (6-6), Florida State (7-5), Georgia Tech (11-1) and Virginia (8-4) -- will be.
Morris' No. 1 concern at the moment is finding a consistent closer at the backend of the bullpen. Right-hander David Gutierrez, who was given the job entering the season, has struggled to fill the shoes of former All-American closer Kyle Bellamy. Gutierrez has five saves, but a 7.62 ERA and Morris knows that won't be good enough.
The best candidate might be true freshman E.J. Encinosa, who in a team-leading 14 appearances has a 1.86 ERA out of the pen. But Morris doesn't appear ready to hand Encinosa such a big responsibility.
"He has good enough stuff to do anything, be an outstanding starter or outstanding closer," Morris said. "It's something we've thought about and talked about. Whether he's ready for that, I'm not sure at this point time. But there's no question he has good enough stuff to do that. That's the most important role we have to figure out. If you don't get it done late, you don't go to Omaha.
"He's just a baby. We're trying to bring him along."
> Morris isn't complaining about what catcher Yasmani Grandal is doing these days. Not only his he providing leadership, but his bat has been red hot. Grandal is hitting .388 and has on-base percentage of .504, both stats rank in the Top 5 in the ACC.
> Sophomore third baseman Harold Martinez has also upped his game. Not only is he hitting .324, second-best on the team, he leads UM with eight home runs and 28 RBI.
University of Miami baseball coach Jim Morris was sporting a grin Thursday afternoon at Alex Rodriguez Park. His recent contract extension through the 2015 season was partly responsible.
His job this fall will be to try and find answers to some of the big questions facing his team. Among the biggest ones according to Morris:
> Who will replace All-American closer Kyle Bellamy?
> Who is going to help fill the lineup alongside catcher Yasmani Grandal, second baseman Scott Lawson, center fielder Nathan Melendres and third baseman Harold Martinez?
> Which of the 13 new faces on the roster will be able to help the Canes right away?
"We have a lot of question marks," Morris said. "We have some good young players. It's very important this fall to figure out where we need to be by February."
Not long after UM completed it's 38-22 season with a loss to Florida at the NCAA Regional in Gainesville, Morris admitted to reporters the Hurricanes suffered from chemistry woes in 2009. He believes the 35 players on his roster -- six seniors, five juniors, 11 sophmores, and 13 freshmen -- will be a better mix in 2010.
"The team at this point has a very good attitude, but it's very easy to have a good attitude right now when everyone's playing, doing the same thing," Morris said. "We just finished going through a tough boot camp. If we can run our program like the Marines, I would love to be able to do that, because when those guys come out of boot camp they'll take a bullet for each other. We just went through the hardest boot camp since I've been at Miami, I can tell you that."
Said Lawson: "We've never been through an offseason so tough. We've been having to get up at 5:30 in the morning everyday, running every day. Then we run at 4 p.m. every day in 100 [degree heat]. . Everyday you have to come out with the same attitude and get better."
WHO WILL CLOSE? Morris would love to figure that out by the end of the fall and joked he'd "trade two starting pitchers for one closer because it's such a tough role." But he said Thursday, the answer won't really come until February when guys are thrown into the fire.
"It's wide open right now," pitching coach J.D. Arteaga said. "Some of the veteran guys -- David Guiterrez -- is one we're thinking about. Hopefully, Taylor Wulf gets back to where he was last year. He has a chance to be a guy there as well."
PLENTY OF ARMS AVAILABLE... The unsure closer situation aside, it's pretty clear the Canes' strength entering the season will be pitching. The staff returns 84 percent of its innings pitched from last season (446 of 531).
"Having [Eric] Erickson back, Chris [Hernandez] back and some of the freshmen coming in I think we'll have a pretty good rotation in the spring," catcher Yasmani Grandal said. "I think for the first time ever we could have a five lefty rotation. I think we have a strong pitching staff. I think we'll be real good by the end of the season."
In all, UM will have eight left-handed arms available and seven righties. The two locks for the starting rotation are lefties Chris Hernandez, who promises he's ready to bounce back from his sophomore slump (7-5, 4.76 ERA, 93 Ks, 31 BBs), and junior Eric Erickson, who returns after missing the 2009 season rehabilitating from an injury.
"Erickson is doing great," Arteaga said. "He's throwing bullpens every other day. Now the bullpens are getting longer so he's throwing every Monday and Friday. He's not going to be stretched out like the other pitchers this fall. But so far he's had no setbacks. He's more than a year out of surgery and 100 percent. He's throwing breaking balls and everything else."
Arteaga will not be giving Hernandez any time off this fall like he did a year ago. Arteaga admitted the 2008 Freshman All-American "just never looked or felt comfortable last year" and took full blame for it. "He just never was really ready to go in the spring," Arteaga said. "He never got into a rhythm. He took the summer off like all our pitchers did this year. Hopefully, with good hard work in the fall, it will carry onto the spring."
Only one arm -- sophmore right-hander Travis Miller (coming off minor surgery for a nerve injury) will not be throwing this fall. Arteaga said Miller was cleared to begin lifting weights Thursday and likely won't begin throwing until December. "If he's not ready for opening day, he'll be ready for week two or three," Arteaga said.
The two freshmen likely to provide an instant boost is local right-hander E.J. Encinosa (Miami Coral Park) and left-hander Jerad Grundy, the only player not from Florida who is among the 13 players in UM's ninth-ranked recruiting class according to Collegiate Baseball.
FAST ADDITIONS... The consensus thought on the position players brought into help replace the losses of Chris Hermann, Jason Hagerty, Dave DiNatale and Ryan Jackson is that there's a lot of speed and maybe not enough pop.
"This is a very athletic class," Arteaga described. "We have a lot of guys that run below a 6.7, 6.8. So that gives us a lot of options to run and put pressure on other teams. Not a whole lot of power in the class, but a whole lot of speed. The next class will have a little more weight behind it in terms of power. But our goal was to get some athletes that could play multiple positions and put some pressure on teams."
In all, UM brought in five infielders and two outfielders among position players.
Former Gulliver shorstop Stephen Perez, a switch hitter, is the most highly touted having been drafted in the 18th round by the Cincinnati Reds. Perez can play shortstop. Junior Chris Pelaez, who signed with Louisville out of high school, is a 6-1, 205-pound junior outfielder and left-handed bat that could win a job. Ditto for sophomore infielder Rony Rodriguez, a 5-11, 200-pound sophomore who played at Miami-Dade College with Pelaez.
"We just have to be solid one through nine and do all the little things this year," Lawson said. "Last year it seemed like if the top of the order was hot, the bottom of the order was off. Or vice versa. We didn't do a lot of the little things right. We didn't steal enough bases. It seems like this year, it feels like we got 10 people that can [run fast]. We better be able to steal a lot of bases and score a lot of runs. I think we're going to be real scrappy this year and put a lot of pressure on the defense."
... We now will return you to your regularly scheduled football blogs as the Canes prepare to take on UCF Saturday night in Orlando...
Mid May has traditionally been the time of year on the South Florida sports calendar when the UM baseball team suddenly begins to draw interest from folks that didn't really care about them except during those early season FSU or Florida series.
Right about now is when coach Jim Morris and his team begin popping up on nightly sports telecasts, and the fairweather fans who no longer have the Heat or Panthers to watch in the playoffs -- or are tired of the up-and-down struggles of the Marlins -- begin wondering how their team is doing in the old "ping league." Even UM football diehards who are glued to Canesport's football recruiting wire will lift their heads up from their computers for five minutes to ask: How many weeks until Omaha?
It's what Morris and his team has gotten us South Floridians accustomed to. They've spoiled us really. What we expect is for the most reliable team in the sports market -- the one that always has that hefty national ranking, the slew of big home run bats, and that combo of left-handers who bring the heat -- to be ready to deliver excitement for about three weeks, to have us on edge and suddenly yearning for that sound (PING!)
Sorry to break it to you casual observers, but the forecast for the pinging Canes doesn't look good. Unless the Canes turn it around big time and in a hurry, the milkshake guy at The Light has served his last Omaha Express. And fans who were hoping to watch Scott Lawson do his stanky leg dance are going to have to hope TV cameras catch it.
Earlier this week, I caught up with the Canes before they left Wednesday in must-win mode for their final regular season ACC series at Wake Forest. Miami, ranked 24th by Baseball America, has gone 8-10 over the past month. The Canes have had plenty of icky losses. North Florida beat them. Bethune-Cookman took two of three from them last weekend at The Light no less.
Players know the only way they'll get to play at home again is if they get hot and stun everyone at next week's ACC Tournament in Durham. So can they do it? And more importantly, can they get back to Omaha? Ask closer Kyle Bellamy that question and he might spit venom at you.
“Of course we can get hot,” said Bellamy who with a 3-1 record, 1.15 ERA and 14 saves has been the only consistent arm on the staff Miami has had all season. “We were No. 2 in the nation for awhile. We’re definitely capable. We just have to get that mentality back we had when we swept the Gators in Gainesville and we took 2 of 3 from FSU. I think we just need to get that chip back on our shoulder – the one we had when were trying to prove to everyone we were a pretty good team."
The problem for Miami is that it's going to take more than an attitude adjustment. It's going to take a major overhaul. Only three hitters -- Scott Lawson (.348), Chris Hermann (.314) and Jason Hagerty (.313) -- are batting better than .300. While ace Chris Hernandez has gotten his act together (he's now 6-3 with a 4.24 ERA after a horrendous start), No. 2 starter David Gutierrez is still looking for his first win since March 7th.
Morris had loftier expectations when the season began despite the fact he lost three first round picks and a boatload of talented players from a team that went 53-11 and entered the College World Series last year expecting to win a fifth national title. But despite the recent setbacks Morris hasn't lost hope. Heck, if Fresno State did it last year why can't the Canes?
“We’ve proven we can beat some of the best teams in college baseball and we’ve proven if we don’t go out and play well we’re not going to win,” Morris said. “We’ve put our backs against the wall no question about that. But I know we can respond. I think we’ve swung the bats really good against some good teams, and any team in the Top 25 has a chance to get hot this time of year. Fresno State was 82nd last year and they won it. We have a lot of young players who can grow up quickly over the next few weeks."
As it stands, even if Miami were to win next week's ACC Tournament, the likelyhood remains they could be on the road in the regionals because the NCAA isn't likely to grant more than two in-state teams the right to host. Both the Gators and Seminoles are ranked higher than UM at the moment and both have had much better regular seasons to this point. As it stands, Baseball America projects Miami will be making the trip to Gainesville.
That doesn't bode well for UM. When the Canes have reached Omaha in the past, they've usually done it playing at home. Of their 23 trips to the CWS, only four were achieved by winning a regional on the road (2006, 1996, 1989, 1984, 1974). Morris said this team in his eyes compares a lot to his 2002 team, which won a regional in Gainesville, but then loss a heart breaker to South Carolina in the Super Regional a week later.
“It’s very important for us to host regionals,” Bellamy said. “There was a lot of inspiration we got our own fans last year in those tight games. Sometimes traveling and being in the airplanes and the hotels can wear on you. Hosting Regionals would definitely be a huge lift. Hopefully, it’s not too late and we can turn it on.”
JUST A FEW QUICK NOTES...
> After spending the past month on Marlins detail, I will be going on the road with the baseball team to Durham next week. So, if you want to talk baseball while I'm there, shoot me some questions on the blog or email. I'll probably be live blogging the games.
> This week with the Marlins on the road and Clark Spencer on the beat, I got a chance to make my rounds to a few local high schools to catch up on the recruiting front. For those of you interested, I posted three videos -- including an interview with Booker T. Washington running back Eduardo Clements.
While I'm still very skeptical UM will be able to get any of the Tornadoes' top recruits, you should know the Canes at least have a new constant presence on campus. Tim Harris Jr., the son of former coach Ice Harris and a star in track at UM, has begun his high school coaching career this spring at Booker T. He's coaching the quarterbacks. That alone should help Miami stay in contention for Clements, receiver Quinton Dunbar, and defensive end Lyden Trail, who recently picked up an offer from USC.
> As for Miami Springs highly-touted receiver Willis Wright, Miami has definitely offered Wright and is intered in him. But they aren't nearly as interested as Florida State, which has already had five coaches come down to meet with the 6-3, 200-pound receiver in the past year. Miami Springs coach Alex Pacheco told me Monday Wesley McGriff visited the school last year, but no one from UM has been out there yet this spring. Wright got his formal offer from UM in the mail. Physically, Wright is one of the most impressive receivers I've ever seen in Miami-Dade. I'd throw him in the same category as Aldarius Johnson, Dwayne Bowe and Andre Johnson.
> For those of you still on edge over Frank Haith's chase of John Wall, Miami is definitely in the race for the nation's top available recruit. The people I spoke to this week on Wall's behalf told me UM is in his top three and under serious consideration. Wall, by the way, is apparently considering stretching his decision making process past the May 20th deadline.
> In case you missed it, our live weekly Q&As on MiamiHerald.com have been shut down until the start of football season. I'm now doing Marlins Q&As on Tuesdays at 2 p.m. If you want to shoot me questions, feel free to email them to me or place them on the blog. I'm thinking of starting up a Monday Mailbag session if I get some good questions from you.
Florida State and Miami are rivals when it comes to every sport. But there may not be more real hate involved in any of them moreso than in baseball. At least that's what it seems like.
Thursday, with UM set to host the Seminoles in a three-game series at The Light, I caught up with several players and coaches to see exactly where the rivalry is at. After last year's heated battle in Tallahassee, which saw the Seminoles refuse to shake hands (and fans get ugly) after the Canes escaped with a series-clinching Sunday win, consider the rivalry on orange alert.
"It was definitely more of a fun rivalry for me when I played," said pitching coach J.D. Arteaga, who pitched for the Canes from 1994 to 1997. "I had players I knew on their side. Mickey Lopez and Doug Mientkewicz were my high school teammates. We went to dinner after it was over. I don't know if we have that anymore because we usually don't recruit the same kids. It's a little more different rivalry now after a few things that have happened over the past six, seven years. It's a little hotter to say the least."
Hot for even the two guys are supposed to be setting the example, Jim Morris and Mike Martin. Morris got his first coaching job under Martin. But each year their relationship has higher levels of stress, especially after Morris beat Martin to win the 1999 national championship.
"That's part of the reason why I don't like to schedule friends," Morris said. " People think it's a game - it's a game to people in the stands. But to me it's my life. To Mike Martin, it's his life. I think about it all the time. It's my life. It's not just a game."
Players agree, especially when it comes to this series. Shortstop Ryan Jackson said he got sprayed with Sunkist and middle fingers by FSU fans last year at the end of Sunday's wild finish. He says while players from both sides don't like each other, playing in atmosphere where you don't like your opponent jacks up players and makes the games even more excting.
"I'm not going to beat around the bush. We don't like them. They don't like us," Jackson said. "I'm sure they're saying the same thing up there. We're looking forward to playing good, clean baseball and hopefully come out on top."
SOME HELP FROM BIG BRO: Earlier this week, David Gutierrez found out he would be making the move from No. 2 starter to Friday night ace. The redshirt junior right-hander didn't have to think twice about who would be the first person he'd call to share the news with -- his big brother, former Hurricanes closer Carlos Gutierrez.
Why big bro and not mom and dad? Because it was big bro that taught him that new pitch this summer past summer -- a hard sinker -- that has helped David put together a 2-2 record and the lowest ERA (1.51) in the ACC the first half of the season.
"We worked on it a lot this offseason while he was training down here," the younger Gutierrez said Thursday. "That's what's helped me take the next step. Last year, I didn't throw it all. Now, I use it on every batter at least once. It's an effective pitch because it looks like a fastball and dies. They'll roll over it and I get groundouts."
As for the elder Gutierrez, drafted in the first round by the Twins last June, David says his older brother expects to begin High-A ball in the coming days.
WHAT'S SLOWING DOWN CHRIS HERNANDEZ?: While Gutierrez has thrived for UM this season, last year's ACC Freshman of the Year and ace, left-hander Chris Hernandez has hit a hard sophomore slump. In six starts and 33 2/3 innings, Hernandez has given up 22 earned runs and walked 12 batters. He gave up 18 walks and 34 earned runs all of last year.
Arteaga said the difference is while Hernandez is throwing harder, he has less command. Morris said Hernandez is trying to be "too fine," and is losing two strike battles he won with opposing hitters last year.
"The first thing we talked to him about was not worrying about duplicating what he did last year. And that's exactly what he's trying to do. He's trying to be perfect," Arteaga said. "This game is to hard to be perfect. As soon as one bad thing happens, it kind of multiplies because you're waiting for the next [bad thing to happen]. Like I said, he's throwing the ball better. But it's nowhere near where he was last year. I didn't expect what he did last year to happen again. He's 2-2 right now. If he ends the year 11-3 with a 3, 4 ERA, it's still a great year."
OUT OF THE SLUMP?: Jackson began the season hitting third in Morris' lineup. But a first half slump ultimately has had him moving all over the place, from 1, 2, 3 to 7, 8, 9. Thursday, Morris said Jackson put too much pressure on himself to start the year and was hitting too many flyballs. But both Morris and Jackson see signs the .283 hitter could be on the verge of turning the corner.
"In my last 10 at bats, I think I've hit seven balls hard," Jackson said. "I feel like I'm getting back on track, staying positive.
"I came out of the shoot trying to do too much. I had a good spring and fall and sometimes when you do that you come out trying to do more than you can. My stride was a little too big. Sunday's game versus Georgia Tech was kind of the turning point for me in terms of how I felt my season was going to go. I hit some balls hard in every bat. I carried it over against Barry. I'm optimistic about the rest of the year. I know what I can do. That's why I got the second half."
The 2008 Miami Hurricanes had one of the best lineups in all of college baseball, a talented collection of power hitters who could light up the scoreboard and send balls flying out of the park on a nightly basis. Barring a few unexpected surprises, coach Jim Morris knows his 2009 Hurricanes will not be that kind of team when they their new season at their newly reconstructed and renamed ballpark Friday night against Rutgers.
So what will the Canes do to win games this coming season? Morris is banking on pitching, defense, timely hitting and being the complete opposite of what his lineup was last year -- a successful small ball unit.
"We're not going to be a team that hits for power like last year," said Morris, whose 2008 team belted 106 home runs and drove in 517 RBI en route to compiling the fifth highest winning percentage in UM history with a 53-11 record before sputtering in Omaha. "Our team last year bunted the least of any team since I've been at Miami. This team might be one that bunts more than anybody. We got to sac bunt. We got to be very fundamentally sound. We got to play good solid defense. We’re not going to be a big inning club – unless I’m surprised."
Expecting the Hurricanes to duplicate what they did a year ago with the number of superstars who left would be insane. One look at the roster tells you all you need to know about how much work the Canes have in front of them. Of the team's top 11 hitters, only four are back. Gone from UM's lineup: 78 of team's 106 home runs and 358 of the team's 517 RBI last season.
There are several All-American candidates back: shortstop Ryan Jackson (.360, 50 RBI, 4 HRs), left-handed ace, freshman pitcher of the year Chris Hernandez (11-0, 2.72 ERA) and budding relief pitcher and newly annointed closer Kyle Bellamy (6-0, 1.86 ERA). But aside from those three, there are simply a lot of questions. Morris could not complete a lineup when asked about it on two different occassions Monday, instead giving reporters a rough draft of where some guys will likely be playing.
"This is probably the team where I have the least number of starters returning in my college career," said Morris, who had three players (first baseman Yonder Alonso, second baseman Jemile Weeks and pitcher Carlos Gutierrez) taken in the first round of the June draft and three more (outfielders Dennis Raben and Blake Tekotte and third baseman Mark Sobolewski) take on the first day.
"With that said, I keep telling myself and reminding myself when we lost [Pat] Burrell, [Aubrey] Huff, [Jason] Michael and [Alex] Santos that the next year nobody gave us a chance and we won it . That’s how I go to sleep every night. This club is like that club. It’s a very young club, even though we did have a few more veterans returning in 1999 than we do this year. It’s still exciting."
> The first four spots in the order appear to be locked in at least according to what Morris told us. He said he envisions freshman Nate Melendres leading off and playing center field followed by JUCO transfer Scott Lawson batting second and playing second base, Jackson batting third and playing short and JUCO transfer Chris Hermann hitting cleanup.
After that, it gets a little hazy. Morris mentioned senior Jason Hagerty (who could play first base, catcher or left field) next, followed by freshman Harold Martinez (a corner infielder) and catcher Yasmani Grandal in the seventh or eight spot. It looks like senior Dave DiNatale (the team's top returning power hitter with nine home runs and a .295 average) will be starting in right field. Ther other spot -- left field -- is a coin flip. Morris said senior Jonathan Weislow, used primarily as a pinch-runner last season and with six career starts, would likely get the first crack at the spot Friday. But Hagerty and senior Ryan Perry, a utility player, would also get a look.
"There’s going to be a lot of combinations to try and figure out how to get those guys in there," Morris said. "We got to get our best nine players in the lineup."
THE PITCHING STAFF
Pitching coach J.D. Arteaga seems a little less worried about his group, which obviously returns one of the best in the country in Hernandez. Despite the loss of No. 2 starter and left-hander Eric Erickson (who will miss the season recovering from Tommy John surgery), Arteaga told me he's confident UM will find somebody very good to fill his spot in the rotation.
Right now, it looks like last year's alternate starter, senior right-hander David Gutierrez, is ready to assume the role. Gutierrez went 5-0 last season in seven starts with a 4.75 ERA. "After that we have a group of freshman that I feel are going to be very good, just guys who haven’t done it yet," Arteaga said. "But the ability is there without a doubt."
Arteaga mentioned four guys with the potential to fill the next two spots. They are: redshirt freshman left-hander D.J. Swatscheno, freshman left-hander Danny Miranda and freshmen right-handers Kevin Youst and Travis Miller.
“Danny Miranda and Kevin Youst are the same pitcher,” Arteaga said. “One is left handed and one is right-handed. Both have outstanding changeups. They both locate their fastball very well. Both are very competitive. The change is up what really sets them apart from other guys. DJ is a little different. He’s a left-handed power guy, who was the highest ranked left-handed pitcher in the state before he had an arm injury. We’re just getting him healthy, getting him ready. I think before they’re done they will all have very good careers here. It’s just a matter of getting them going.”
The closer's role as I mentioned earlier will belong to Bellamy. But it's not a position he has locked in. "He closed a few games last year," Arteaga said. "But it’s a big jump. Just because you had a great year as a setup guy doesn’t mean it’s going to translate. Pitching the eighth inning and the ninth inning are two completely different animals. He did it in the ACC championship game. He has done it. I have confidence he’s going to do it."
If Bellamy struggles, his most likely replacement would be newcomer and JUCO transfer Taylor Wulf. The 6-0, 235-pound junior right hander was a starter as a sophomore at Alvin Community College, but was a closer as a freshman. He has strong curve ball as a strikeout pitch and has the full backing of Arteaga. "He's got the mentality for it," Arteaga said.
> I'll have more to share with you in the coming weeks from baseball including interviews with the Canes' three biggest newcomers: the Texas trio of JUCO players, who are being counted on heavily to deliver right away. Plus, some good stuff from Ryan Jackson and Ryan Hagerty.
From the world of unlikely scenarios, one regarding the return of All-American first baseman Yonder Alonso to the University of Miami is quietly becoming a situation to watch. (READ THE UPDATED STORY)
According to our Marlins beat writer Clark Spencer, and now UM coach Jim Morris whom I spoke to this afternoon, negotiations between the Cincinnati Reds and Alonso (who was taken 7th overall) are not going well and there is a chance the star slugger could elect to return to the Canes for his senior year.
"I haven't talked to Yonder in about a week or so, but I know he's got a figure in his mind and I know they're a long way aways from that figure," Morris said Thursday afternoon. "If it doesn't work out, I think we could fit him in our lineup."
Alonso's advisor, Brian Peters, told Spencer recently Yonder is looking for "Pat Burrell money" -- or about $7 million and that if he didn't sign, Yonder would probably either return to UM or go to the Independent League, likely the latter. Alonso is currently working out in Miami with a trainer to stay in shape.
Alonso is one of eight first round draft choices currently unsigned, who must be under contract by the official deadline of August 15th. Otherwise, they can return to school or elect to play in the independent minor leagues.
The Canes, who were ranked No. 1 in the country before being bounced at the College World Series, were decimated by the draft. Morris expected some damage, with Weeks, Gutierrez, Raben, Tekotte and Garcia's signings not a surprise. But Sobolewski signing was somewhat of a surprise as was outfielder Adan Severino, who probably could've become a top-round pick in 2009 but opted to sign for $65,000.
"It's going to come down to the deadline of August 15th," Morris said. "If they've talked to Yonder in the last day or two, I'm not sure what's happened. He's got different alternatives. He can sign. He can come back to school or go to that northern league like J.D. Drew did. A good decision would be to come back to school.
"A guy like that coming back would be a big boost for anybody. He was arguably the best hitter in college baseball."
While Morris admits he's been intrigued by how long the negotiations have taken, he's not going to get overly excited or anxious. Still, he knows how much fun Alonso had at UM and how much it hurt him when the Hurricanes lost int he College World Series.
"Guys have signed at 11:59 p.m. on that last day, so I try not to get my hopes up too much because so many things happen on that last day," Morris said. "I don't know how many of the first rounders who have not signed yet, but I'm sure they're will be some that sign at the last minute.
"But we'd be more than ok if Yonder decided to come back."
What's up gang,
Back at Rosenblatt ready to cover this must-win game for the U against Stanford. Another pretty much sunny day in Omaha. I wish I could send it your way, I hear from Manny that it's been pouring all day in Miami.
I'll be here for the next 4 hours watching every pitch with you and ready to talk Canes, high schools, movies, Omaha, food, drinks, UM rivals, (OK DRE, FOCUS!)
Anyway, Miami is the designated road team. They are 3-0 in the playoffs as the visitors on the scoreboard.
Stanford pulls a switcheroo on who they start. The Cardinal will go with right-handed freshman Danny Sandbrink, who is 2-1, with a 2.85 ERA in 19 appearances, which includes 5 starts. His other numbers (1 CG, 53 2/3 IP, 54 H, 20 R, 17 ER, 18 BB, 27 Ks, .262 opp. avg.).
Miami, as expected, will counter with senior Enrique Garcia (7-2, 4.56 ERA, 15 starts, 81 IP, 89 H, 41 ER, 45 R, 34 BB, 64 K, .278 opp. avg.).
Stanford has four solid home run hitters (CF Sean Ratliff 21, C Jason Castro 14, 2B Cord Phelps 13, and 1B Brent Milleville 11). Garcia has given up the fewest of any UM starter with 2.
Changes in UM's lineup, Jason Hagerty will start as DH, after coming as a PH for struggling Dave DiNatale in the FSU win. Hagerty came through with a 2-run single that drove what ended up being the game-winning runs. The order: 1. Tekotte, 2. Weeks, 3. Alonso, 4. Sobolewski, 5. Jackson, 6. Severino, 7. Raben, 8. Hagerty, 9. Grandal.
Well, I'll be here and back after 1st pitch with updates. In the meantime, feel free to chat away. For continuous updates during the game, visit www.ncaasports.com.
1st inning - UM 1, Stanford 0: Tekotte and Weeks set the table again with infield singles (Weeks' a great bunt between 3rd and the mound), and Sobolewski drove in Tekotte on a sac fly. Inning could have been more productive had Alonso not struck out and Jackson lined out to left. Stanford threatened with singles by Cord Phelps and Jason Castro, but Garcia worked out of it with three fly ball outs, including another solid defensive play in right by Raben.
2nd inning - UM 1, Stanford 0: Hagerty drew a walk, but was left on as the Cardinal 2B Phelps made a tough play on a Grandal grounder. An error by Weeks did not prove costly as Garcia got Jones and Schlander to pop up.
3rd inning - Stanford 2, UM 1: UM blows an opportunity to tack on a run. Tekotte walked and reach third on sac bunt by Weeks and a wild pitch. But Alonso and Sobolewski struck out in succession. Phelps led off the bottom half with a double to left. August singled to center. Castro drove him in with an infield single to short. But more damage was saved by the Mohawk. Dennis Raben with another diving web gem in right field.
4th inning - Stanford 3, UM 1: UM is not hitting. Raben got hit by a pitch after a fly out by Jackson and a ground out by Severino. Hagerty then stranded him with another fly out. Cardinal added a run on a walk drawn by Zach Jones and a bloop single by Joey August. Garcia struck out Castro looking to end the inning.
5th inning - Stanford 7, UM 1: Yasmani Grandal and Tekotte each walked. Weeks, however, popped up a bunt attempt and Alonso struck out for the third time in the game. Sobolewski followed suit to kill UM's best scoring threat since the 1st. The big hits came from Sean Ratliff, who blasted a 2-run shot off Garcia. Anthony Nalepa entered the game. After an error and a single by Jake Schlander, Phelps hit a 2-run triple to center that Tekotte almost caught diving.
6th inning - Stanford 8, Miami 1: Raben hits into a double play. Stanford's Toby Gerhart doubled off Iden Nazario to extend the lead as UM empties its bullpen for the first time in the playoffs. Rene Guerra gets them out of the inning with a strikeout. Yasmani Grandal blasts a solo shot to center field.
7th inning - Stanford 8, Miami 2: Weeks got hit by a pitch and Alonso broke out of the funk with a single. But once again a golden opportunity wasted as Sobolewski flies out to right. After a leadoff walk, 3 up, 3 down for Guerra.
8th inning - Stanford 8, Miami 3: Three straight singles by Jackson, Severino and Raben got the UM fans here excited. But only one run scored on a sac fly by Hagerty. Grandal and Tekotte then struck out. 3 up, 3 down for Guerra, who's looked good for someone that hasn't pitched in a month.
Final - Stanford 8, Miami 3: Another promising inning ends like a promising season. Weeks walked, Alonso doubled, but closer Drew Storen got Sobolewski to pop up to first, Jackson to strike out and then snared a line drive from Severino (a play that should make Sportscenter) to end UM's season.
Andre Fernandez back here in my 5th day from Omaha.
Just got back to the hotel after driving around the city.
With a few hours left before Miami takes on Stanford, I just wanted to give you guys a little more info on the Cardinal for those that don't know much about what the U will have to deal with to keep the dream alive.
A pitching update, looks like Austin Yount will not be the starter today. Erik Davis continues to look like the best bet since he hasn't pitched yet. Left-hander Jeremy Bleich (3-2, 1.02 ERA) would be the other. He already threw an inning against FSU, but he was their ace at the start of the season before getting hurt and missing the majority of it. He came back in their regional.
The top guys Enrique Garcia will have to contend with are C Jason Castro (.379, 14 HR, 72 RBI), CF Sean Ratliff (.293, 21 HR, 69 RBI), 2B Cord Phelps (.345, 13 HR, 55 RBI).
I know everyone is wondering which Carlos Gutierrez will show up if he's called in to protect the lead. The one that was dominant most of the season, or this alter-ego that Canes fans want to burn at the steak...I mean stake. Sorry, clear sign I'm in Omaha.
But the true key to this game, in my opinion, is Garcia.
If he performs the way he has recently and shuts down this powerful lineup, I don't see why UM can't get the bats going and get just enough runs to advance.
UM's lone senior, as he said yesterday, needs to "get UM to Friday."
Jemile Weeks and Blake Tekotte have homered in each game so far, and Yonder can tie the UM single-season record for HRs if he hits one more. Sad part is he should already have it since 2 were wiped out in a rain out vs. Wake Forest.
University of Miami coach Jim Morris, a College World Series veteran, described the two days between the team's departure from Coral Gables to Game 1 in Omaha as overwhelming. And this is coming from a guy taking UM to the CWS for the 11th time in 15 seasons.
"It's almost a relief when you get to play the first game because that first couple of days is full of meetings and interviews and everything else," Morris said. "After that it calms down for the players a little. It's much, much, much more attention given to them than any other time of the year. That 48 hours you're bombarded."
The Hurricanes departed Coral Gables Thursday at 9 a.m. for a charter flight to Omaha.
Morris said the team had quite a to-do list before Saturday's CWS opener against eighth-seeded Georgia at 7 p.m (ESPN).
-Visiting Boys Town, the home to more than 550 at-risk kids and teens
-Practice (which he said would be an hour but wind up lasting three because of interviews with ESPN and getting their headshots taken)
The Hurricanes are starting ace Chris Hernandez, but Morris said he could end up changing the order of his rotation after that based on matchups.
"You've got to win one game at a time and the more you win, the more days you have off and the more your pitchers are rested," he said. "You may pitch guys a different way to win those games."
Colleague Andre Fernandez will be in Omaha covering the CWS, so check back Saturday for updates.
Just got back from Wednesday's baseball practice and have a few quick tidbits of info I'd like to share with you from all three sports:
- Frank Haith's basketball program has picked up another player who will be part of the 2009 class, 6-8, 205-pound power forward Donnovan Kirk. Scout.com's Dave Telep reported it this afternoon. Kirk, a Scout.com Top 100 junior from Detroit County Day, picked UM over Michigan State, USC and South Florida. Rivals.com rates Kirk 56th in its Top 100. Telep reported UM got in early on Kirk and swayed him from the hometown Spartans. Assuming Kirk sticks to his word, he becomes the second member of the 2009 class, joining Villanova transfer Malcolm Grant. Miami has four seniors heading into next season and likely two more scholarships available to use in '09. I've got a call into Kirk's high school coach and hopefully will have more for you later tonight.
- Baseball coach Jim Morris said Wednesday he's going to leave freshman Chris Hernandez in the Friday night starter role instead of going back to now fully healthy sophomore Eric Erickson. Hernandez was named Pro-Line Athletic National Pitcher of the Week by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) on Tuesday. The former Monsignor Pace standout matched a career-high with 11 strikeouts in a career-long eight innings to lead No. 1 Miami to a series-opening 1-0 shutout of No. 16 Virginia last Friday. He improved to 7-0 on the season with a 2.77 ERA. I caught up with Hernandez this afternoon and will have a Q&A later this week for you.
- Booker T. Washington football coach Tim "Ice" Harris told our Andre Fernandez today he will indeed be leaving the Tornadoes to work at UM. Harris is waiting until after his team competes in the Class 3A state track and field championships this week to formally announce it. He'll be following his son Brandon, a star cornerback and '08 recruit. Rumor is the job Harris will be taking is Community Liaison. Harris led Booker T. to the state football championship this past December and won last year's state track title. UM coach Randy Shannon has been friends with Ice for years and I'm told UM is very much interested in letting him coach down the line.