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Canes head to Gainesville without Morris

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.

Jim Morris 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."