February 10, 2012

UM spring schedule includes football-baseball double-header

UM announced its spring practice schedule Friday, including sites for the two open scrimmages and the addition of "Fan Appreciation Day" -- a football-baseball double-header on campus.

Anyone that purchases a ticket to the Canes' (March 4) baseball game against Florida will be granted access to the football team's practice at Greentree Practice Field. First pitch is slated for 1 p.m.

The Canes first scrimmage will be held on Saturday, March 24 from 10 a.m.-Noon at Ted Hendricks Stadium in Hialeah, Fla. The second scrimmage will be held Friday night on March 30 at Bishop Verot High School in Fort Myers, Fla. A 7 p.m. kick is scheduled.

Aside from those events and the previously announced spring game on April 14 at Sun Life Stadium, the other 11 practices (March 3, 5, 6, 20, 22, 27, 29 and April 3, 5, 10, 12) will be closed to the public.

> Following the Canes' scrimmage in Fort Myers, the Hurricane Club will host a golf tournament on Saturday, March 31 at the Heritage Bay Golf and Country Club.  Registration is at 7 a.m. and a shotgun start at 8 a.m. Lunch and awards will begin at 1 p.m. The deadline to register for the event is March 23. Please contact the Hurricane Club for more information: 305.284.3838.

> The spring game on April 14, free and open to the public, will kickoff at 2 p.m. and will be aired on Comcast South Sports (CSS) on tape delay at 5 p.m. that day. Schedule of events for the day will be released at a later date.

> In conjunction with the BankUnited CanesFest the Miami Hurricanes will be hosting a stadium wide Select-A-Seat. Fans are invited to come walk the Sun Life Stadium and select their seats for the upcoming season featuring home games against Florida State, Virginia Tech, North Carolina, N.C. State, USF and Bethune-Cookman.

February 07, 2012

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.


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."


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."

January 27, 2012

Cardinals OF, former Cane Jon Jay to host celebrity bowling event Saturday on Miami Beach

Despite always being a profoundly good left-handed hitter for average and very good defensively, Cardinals outfielder Jon Jay said he's never played on a team where he's been the best or even the second-best player in the lineup. 

Jon Jay"I mean you look at the teams I played on at [Miami] Columbus [High] and the University of Miami -- we had so much talent," said Jay, who hit .297 in 159 games last year for St. Louis.

"But you don't always have to be the best to be successful. You just have to believe in yourself, work hard and good things can happen for you. I've been very blessed."

A lot of good things have certainly happened for the 26-year old Miami native who recently became engaged. After leading Columbus to its first baseball state championship in 2003 and earning All-ACC First Team honors at UM, Jay helped guide the Cardinals last October to the World Series in just his second big-league season.

Now, he's hoping to give back some of the good fortune he's received by hosting a charity bowling tournament featuring other major leaguers with local ties Saturday night from 6 to 9 p.m. at Lucky Strike Lanes in Miami Beach, 1691 Michigan Avenue.

The event, called Jon Jay's Celebrity Bowling Challenge, will raise money for the Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust and will feature about a dozen big league ball players. Among those expected to attend: Marlins first baseman Gaby Sanchez, Nationals pitcher Gio Gonzalez, Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer, Indians pitcher Chris Perez, Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia and Rays infielder Sean Rodriguez. Tickets ($100 per person and available at jonjaychallenge.com) include food and drinks, plus the opportunity to bowl and hang out with players.

"I've done a lot of [community service] during the season when I've played in St. Louis and when I've come home I've visited homeless shelter and hospitals before. But I wanted to do an event where I could give the money to charity and have it be a community thing with the guys down here who are sort of the next generation in the big leagues."

Jay, who scored the tying run in the bottom of the 10th inning on Lance Berkman's two-run single with two outs in the Cardinals come-from-behind win in Game 6 of the World Series, got a chance earlier this month to shake hands with President Barack Obama when the Cardinals were invited to the White House.

"It was crazy man and a lot of fun," Jay said of St. Louis' run from 10 1/2 games out of a wild card spot heading into the final month of the season to winning it all.

"It's going to be a lot different with [manager] Tony [LaRussa] leaving and then Albert [Pujols]. But when you look at our roster I still think we have a great team. We have Matt Holiday and Lance Berkman and Yadier [Molina] who is one of the best catchers in the game and we got [Rafael] Furcal back. I mean we played the whole season last year without Adam Wainwright. People don't realize how important he was our team. I mean the guy won 20 games. So we're getting him back and Jaime [Garcia] is coming back. The whole team is pretty much coming back except Albert. Our bullpen has some good young guys who are coming back. I think we're all excited about coming back."

The Cardinals, who share their spring training facility in Jupiter with the Marlins, will open the season at the Marlins new ballpark April 4.

"I drive by it everyday on the 836 when I'm home," Jay said. "It's beautiful. I'm excited I'll get to be a part of history when it opens."

August 31, 2011

Former Bethune-Cookman star catcher O'Brien enrolled at UM, seeking waiver to play

Former Bethune-Cookman star catcher Peter O'Brien has enrolled at UM and he hopes to play for the Hurricanes as a senior once he receives a waiver from the NCAA.

Peter O'Brien O'Brien (6-4, 220) was drafted by the Colorado Rockies in the third round last June after a stellar three-year career at B-CC. But he didn't sign with the club before the Aug. 15 deadline, allowing him to return to college.

The former standout at Miami's Braddock High wrapped up his career at B-CC playing in a total of 168 games, hitting a total of 38 home runs and 38 doubles, while racking up 154 RBI and a .336 batting average. In his time behind the plate, he collected 1038 putouts and 148 assists, for a .985 fielding percentage.

UM's sports information department said O'Brien is allowed to practice with the team, but still needs a special waiver from the NCAA to be eligible to play this coming season. Last year, UM received a waiver for USC transfer and first baseman Cade Kreuter.

August 26, 2011

PG Shane Larkin signs, but must sit; Canes unveil baseball class

CORAL GABLES -- We interrupt your Hurricanes football frenzy for news on the baseball and basketball teams. First hoops.

Shane Larkin Shane Larkin, a transfer from DePaul, officially signed with UM Friday and is enrolled in classes, but can't play this season per NCAA transfer rules.

The son of former Cincinnati Reds All-Star shortstop Barry Larkin left the Chicago-based school in July for an undisclosed medical reason.

The 5-foot-10, 160-pound point guard from Orlando Dr. Phillips High was the Class 6A Player of the Year runner-up to Austin Rivers as a senior after leading his team to a 27-6 record and the state championship while averaging 18.8 points, 6.4 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 3.5 steals per game.

Larkin will be allowed to practice with the team this season.

BASEBALL: Now to the diamond where UM announced it's signing class Friday. According to UM's sports information staff the Canes could announce two more signings in the coming days...

Chris Diaz, SP, L/L, 6-0, 200, Gulliver Prep
- Went 8-2 with a 2.45 ERA and 66 strikeouts as a senior to earn All-Dade First Team honors by The Miami Herald.

Alexander Fernandez, 2B, R/R, 5-9, 180, Archbishop McCarthy
- Son of former UM pitcher and Marlin Alex Fernandez. Drafted in the 46th round by the Tigers in 2011 Draft. Hit .513 with 34 RBI and went 10-0 with 50 Ks a senior, leading his team to back-to-back state championships. Named First Team All-Broward Class 4A-1A by The Miami Herald.

Sean Hurley, 3B, R/R, 6-2, 210, Sarasota High
- Hit .371 with six homers and 23 RBI as a senior.

Garrett Kennedy, C, S/R, 6-1, 185, Archbishop McCarthy
- Named Honorable Mention Class 4A-1A for The Miami Herald.

Vince Kossak, RP, R/R, 6-2, 175, Palm Beach State College
- Went 4-0 with a 4.96 ERA as a sophomore, 32 Ks, 28 BBs.

Patrick Kulick, RP, L/L, 6-1, 205, Parkland Douglas
- According to InsideTheU.com, Georgetown, Florida, Florida State, Wake Forest, and Duke were among the schools recruiting Kulick before he picked the Hurricanes. This past season was frustrating for Kulick, who suffered a minor right knee injury, which prevented him from only playing in 12 games. He hit .500 with two home runs and only pitched three innings and did not allow a run. He hit .421 with 5 homers and 26 steals as a junior.

Jake Lane, OF, R/R 6-0, 185, Tavernier Coral Shores
- Selected in the 45th round by Arizona in the 2011 MLB First-Year Player Draft. Lane was The Key West Citizen's 2011 Monroe County Baseball Player of the Year after he hit .493 batting average with seven home runs and 28 RBI. Had a 4.56 GPA, was Senior Class President and Homecoming King.

Jarred Mederos, SS, R/R, 5-11, 175, Hialeah Mater Academy
- Third Team All-Dade Class 4A-1A as a senior.

Eric Nedeljkovic, RP, R/R, 6-1, 185, Sierra College (Rocklin, Calif.)
- Went 1-2 with a 2.05 ERA and 7 saves in 19 games at Sierra College.

Ryan Otero, RP, R/R 6-3, 200, Miami Ransom Everglades
- Hit .394 with two homers and 14 RBI as a senior according to MaxPreps.

Tyler Palmer, SS, R/R, 5-11, 190, University of Florida
- He hit .610 with 37 RBI, 24 stolen bases and six homers as a senior at the University School. Palmer hit .286 in nine games, making four starts, in 2011 for the Gators. He's eligible to play immediately at UM in 2012.

Alex San Juan, C, R/R, 5-11, 205, Miami-Dade College
- Hit .310 with two homers and 19 RBI in 34 games with the Sharks as a college sophomore. Formerly of Miami Columbus.

Andy Suarez, SP, L/L, 6-2, 190, Miami Columbus
- Went 4-3 with a 1.65 ERA, 58 strikeouts as a senior at Columbus. He was 5-1 with 83 strikeouts and a 1.65 ERA as a junior when he was named Class 6A Pitcher of The Year. Selected in the ninth round, 289th overall by Toronto in the 2011 MLB First-Year Player Draft.

Esteban Tresgallo, C, 6-2, 200, R/R, Colegio Marista, Puerto Rico
- Selected by the Mariners in the 50th round of the 2011 draft.

> UM had four other players who were originally part of their 2011 signing class who ended up elsewhere. Third baseman Cory Spangenberg (Indian River State College) was taken 10th overall by the Padres in the 2011 draft and signed with them; Huntington Beach, Calif. left-hander Henry Owens was drafted 36th overall and signed with the Red Sox; Wekiva High (Orlando area) right-hander Jace Herrera is no longer going to sign with UM; and Deltona High shortstop Jack Lopez signed after being drafted in the 16th round by the Royals.

July 14, 2011

Gino DiMare said he's returning to UM for one thing -- getting the Canes back to Omaha

When Gino DiMare stepped down as UM's assistant head coach in 2008, it wasn't because he was disappointed with what he was getting out of his hitters or he was doing a bad job as recruiting coordinator.

Fatherhood was calling.

Gino DiMare"Coach [Jim] Morris certainly didn't want me to leave," said DiMare, who served as an assistant from 1997 to 2008 and the team's recruiting coordinator over his last nine seasons. "I had two kids -- [ages] three, one, and another one on the way. My life had changed kind of quickly. It's tough when you're away from your family. People don't realize that. When they hear a coach say 'I'm stepping away to be with my family,' they think that's a cop out, bologna deal. It is for some guys. But it wasn't for me. I had a really tough time getting on a plane and being away from my kids all summer.

"Three years later, I have three daughters who are 6, 4 and 2 and I think they're all dying for me to get out of the house."

Nobody was happier to hear that than Morris, whose team hasn't been able to get back to the College World Series -- or past the University of Florida -- since DiMare left.

The team’s batting average this past season was just .275, a low that hadn't been seen in the program since the Canes hit .273 in 1979.

Miami’s offense ranked among the top 10 in school history in eight of DiMare's nine seasons as the club's hitting instructor. The 2008 team that advanced to the College World Series and spent much of the season atop the national collegiate baseball polls finished the year hitting at a school eighth-best .320 average, while also ranking tied for second in home runs (106), fourth in slugging percentage (.541), eighth in total bases (1,202) and RBI (517), tied for ninth in doubles (135) and 10th in hits (711).

"I'm not coming back to just get to an NCAA Tournament," DiMare said. "Coach Morris knows how I am. He and [pitching coach] JD [Arteaga] are used to winning and going to Omaha. The fans are used to that. I am as a former coach and player at Miami. I certainly wouldn't be coming back if I didn't feel the program could get back to Omaha. I wouldn't put myself in that situation. I think we can get it turned around. I don't think they're that far off. But there's no doubt we have to get it going in some areas, hitting is one big area where we have to get it turned around. And we will get it turned around."

DiMare is already familiar with at least two of UM's top returning hitters -- shortstop Stephen Perez and infielder Michael Broad, two players he recruited to UM before leaving.

DiMare, who will share the recruiting responsibilities with Arteaga, previously helped recruit former stars Yonder Alonso, Ryan Braun, Jon Jay, Gaby Sanchez, Danny Valencia and Jemile Weeks – all of whom have reached the big leagues in recent years.

Thursday, his first official day on the job, DiMare said he was already out watching a double-header of games in South Florida and was preparing to meet with Arteaga and Morris in the evening to discuss their recruiting plan.

DiMare said he plans to be aggressive in finding players who can help UM right away.

"Recruiting has changed in that kids are committing a lot earlier now," DiMare said. "We have commitments not only for 2012, but we got commitments for 2013 and upcoming juniors. My last couple years I saw schools become very aggressive in getting kids to commit early, which I'm not a big fan of. But that's the way the game is played and that's the we're going to play it."

July 03, 2011

Former Canes Gaby Sanchez, Chris Perez and Ryan Braun selected to MLB All-Star game

ARLINGTON, Texas -- University of Miami baseball coach Jim Morris called Indians closer and former Hurricane Chris Perez Sunday morning to wish him a happy and belated 26th birthday.

Ryan Braun was the leading vote-getter for the National League. Morris had no idea he'd be calling him back a few hours later to congratulate him on something else -- getting his first invite to the All-Star Game. Perez and two former Hurricanes teammates -- Marlins first baseman Gaby Sanchez and Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun -- were picked to represent their respective leagues Sunday, making them the first trio in Hurricanes history to play in the same Midsummer Classic.

Perez went into Sunday tied for third in the American League with 19 saves, a 2-3 record and a 2.37 ERA. Sanchez is the Marlins team leader in batting average (.293) and RBI (46) and has 13 homers. Braun is hitting .310 (10th best in NL) with 16 homers (tied for 10th most in NL) and 62 RBI (4th-most in NL).

"That's great news," Morris told The Miami Herald Sunday afternoon after hearing the news. "I talked to Chris this morning and didn't even know it. Maybe he didn't either. They probably hadn't announced it yet. But it's great news. We've had some really good players here over the years and it's a credit to our guys and our assistant coaches for getting to the next level and continuing their success."

For Braun, the leading vote getter in the National League, it's his fourth consecutive All-Star Game appearance. But for Sanchez and Perez it marks the first time in their careers they've been All-Stars. The only other time UM has had more than one former Hurricane in the same All-Star Game was in 2001 when catcher Charles Johnson and outfielder Greg Vaughn each made it.

Prior to Sunday's selections, UM had only had five former players make it to the Midsummer Classic -- pitcher Danny Graves (2000, '04), pitcher Neal Heaton (1990), Johnson ('97, '01), Vaughn (93, 96, 98, 01) and Braun. Former Dodgers, Marlins and Mets catcher Mike Piazza played six games at UM before going pro. He played in 12 All-Star Games, but he doesn't really consider himself a former Hurricane. He played more at Miami-Dade College.

The Hurricanes currently have 10 former players up in the major leagues. Aside from the three All-Stars, outfielders Pat Burrell and Aubrey Huff are playing for the Giants, infielder Alex Cora is with the Nationals, outfielder Jason Michaels is with the Astros, outfielder John Jay is with the Cardinals, third baseman Danny Valencia is with the Twins, and former second baseman Jemile Weeks was recently called up by the Oakland A's.

> Hurricanes designated hitter Cade Kreuter, meanwhile, was selected to play in the California Collegiate League (CCL) All-Star Game July 13 in Glendale, Calif.

Kreuter, a USC transfer who hit .228 with nine RBI in 57 at-bats as a sophomore for UM, has eight hits (three doubles) and three RBI for the CCL’s Academy Barons this summer. He has started 11 of 13 games. The game will be televised live nationally on Fox Sports Net.

June 30, 2011

Jim Morris expects team MVP Zeke DeVoss to sign with Cubs this weekend

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.

Jim Morris The team's top two incoming recruits -- third baseman Corey Spangenberg and left-handed pitcher Henry Owens -- were taken in the first round of the MLB Draft. He doesn't expect to get either of them.

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.

Zeke DeVoss 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.

June 07, 2011

Martinez, DeVoss taken on Day 2 of MLB Draft

Harold Martinez didn't have the type of season many expected him to -- even himself.

Harold Martinez After leading the ACC in home runs with 21 as a sophomore and leading the Canes with 69 RBI, he hit just three home runs and drove in 38 runs as a junior. It wasn't the kind of output scouts were hoping to see -- regardless of the new aluminum bats being used in college baseball. 

But early Tuesday afternoon, as he sat in his house and followed the draft online, his biggest dream came true. With the last pick in the second round, 90th overall, the Philadelphia Phillies took Martinez. And after living out one dream for the last three years at Miami, Martinez is almost certain he's ready to go pro.

"There’s a lot left [at UM], but I’m pretty sure I’m going to go ahead and take this opportunity," said Martinez, who spoke with Miami Herald reporter Adam Beasley. "I had two dreams in my life, UM and play in the major leagues. I’ve already achieved one of those goals. It’s time to chase the other."

Martinez's agent/advisor, Mike Maulini, said he's never had to work harder for one of his players than he had to with Martinez. Convincing teams his rough junior season at UM was simply a hiccup on the way to a great career wasn't an easy sell.

"In my 13 years of being an agent this is on top of the list as far as working hard for a player," Maulini said. "He is an amazing young man and I am extremely happy for him and his family."

Martinez said he has a lot to improve on moving forward. But he's looking forward to it. "I knew I was going to get drafted no matter what, and I’d have chance to chase my dream," Martinez said. "You're always scared you’re not going to go real high because I didn’t have the year I thought I would. But I love baseball and I knew I’d be drafted by someone."

Teammate Zeke DeVoss didn't go long after Martinez. He was taken eight picks later by the Chicago Cubs, 98th overall and early in the third round. DeVoss, who led UM with a .340 batting average and the ACC with 32 stolen bases, was a little surprised he went so early.

"“I was actually at home [in Miami], laying in bed," DeVoss said. "I wasn’t really expecting it. I had the draft on my computer and heard my name. It is a tremendous blessing. To get drafted by such a great club like the Chicago Cubs, I’m really excited.”

DeVoss is only a sophomore, but because his 21st birthday on July 17 falls before the signing cut-off he was eligible for this year's draft. So will he also be leaving UM behind?

"The Cubs are going to be calling back in the next couple of days to discuss things," DeVoss said. "I don’t intend on having it be something that lasts all summer. I’ll decide in the next week or two. At this point, it’s really 50-50. I would like to sign, but I wouldn’t have any problem with coming back next year. This is a great place. It’s great to play under Coach Morris. To get a degree from UM, I’m sure anybody in the world would love to do that."

The Cardinals plucked junior left-handed closer Danny Miranda with the 260th pick in the eight round. Miranda went 3-1 with a 2.67 ERA and 15 saves this past season.

Two UM signees were taken on the first day of the draft -- and likely will end up going pro.

Cory Spangenberg, the top position player UM signed, was taken 10th overall by the Padres out of Indian River Community College.

Left-handed pitcher Henry Owens, a lanky 6-foot-7 hurler from one Edison High School in Huntington Beach, Calif., was taken 36th overall -- third in the compensatory round -- by the Boston Red Sox.

On Tuesday, Miami Columbus pitcher Andy Suarez, a left-hander who also signed with UM, was taken in the ninth round by the Blue Jays, 289th overall. Maulini, who serves as Suarez's advisor, said he expects the Blue Jays to make a hard run at signing Suarez.

May 30, 2011

Canes headed back to Gainesville for regionals -- meet Jacksonville at noon Friday

Maybe the third time will be the charm.

The Miami Hurricanes (36-21) learned Monday afternoon they'll have to get through the Florida Gators (45-16) if they're going to earn their first trip to Omaha since 2008. 

Second-seeded UM was placed in the Gainesville Regional and will open NCAA Tournament play at noon Friday against third-seeded Jacksonville (36-22). The double elimination tournament also features fourth-seeded Manhattan (34-17). The Gators, ranked No. 1 in the final Baseball America poll, are seeded second overall in the 64-team tournament behind Virginia. All games at the Gainesville regional will be broadcast live on ESPNU.

The Hurricanes, who are making a record 39th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance (but have only hosted a regional twice in the last six years), have been eliminated by Florida each of the past two seasons. Last year, UF knocked UM off in the Super Regional. In 2009, the Gators eliminated UM in the regional round. Earlier this season, UM was swept in Gainesville by scores of 8-3, 1-0 and 5-3. The Gators have won nine of the last 10 meetings overall.

UM, ranked 16th by Baseball America, is 79-19 all-time against Jacksonville and has won eight in a row in the series dating back to 2004. The Dolphins finished second in the Atlantic Sun Conference with a 19-11 record and was ranked in the top 10 nationally in several offensive categories. The Dolphins’ signature win was an 11-2 victory over No. 2 Florida at McKethan Stadium on May 17, while also going 9-7 against team ranked in the top 60 in RPI

The winner of the Gainesville Regional is scheduled to meet the winner of the Georgia Tech Regional. The Yellow Jackets (49-19) are the top seed and are joined by second-seeded Southern Miss (39-17), third-seeded Mississippi State (34-23) and fourth-seeded Austin Peay (33-22). The Canes were swept by Georgia Tech at home back in late March.

April 28, 2011

Canes looking to shut door on FSU this time

You don't have to remind Danny Miranda how much losing last year's series at Florida State hurt the Hurricanes. 

Danny Miranda He was on the mound for the first of two ninth-inning rallies the Seminoles pulled off on back-to-back days to beat UM. Trailing by one in the bottom of the ninth, FSU loaded the bases with no outs on a single, a walk and an error before Stuart Tapley hit a double to straight-away center off Miranda to bring in the game-tying and game-winning runs. The Canes led 7-3 before FSU scored five runs over the final two innings.

The next day, Mike McGee hit a two-out, two-run home run off Taylor Wulf in the ninth to rally the Seminoles to a 7-6 win.

"It felt like we were ahead 25 of the 27 innings we played," Miranda lamented earlier this week. "It was tough. All I know is we can't wait to play them again, here, in our place."

UM, which has won 14 of 16 to climb to 28-13 and as high as No. 14 in some polls, gets it shot at revenge starting Friday night at Alex Rodriguez Park. FSU junior lefty Sean Gilmartin (7-1, 1.38 ERA), who is coming off a 13-strikeout complete-game performance against Duke, will face freshman left-hander Brad Radziewski (6-2, 3.23 ERA) in the series opener.

The ninth-ranked Seminoles (31-10) are one of the top run-scoring teams in the nation, scoring an average of 7.8 times per game (ninth in the nation). FSU also leads D-I teams in doubles (106) and base on balls (272). The Hurricanes’ strength is their pitching – they entered the week ranked eighth nationally in strikeouts per nine innings (8.9) and ninth in hits allowed per nine innings (7.34).

This time, if Miranda (3-1, 3.33 ERA) gets a lead handed to him he feels more confident he'll be able to maintain it. The junior left-hander, who had just five saves last season, has 11 in 12 chances already (second most in the ACC). The reason for improvement? He's developed enough confidence in a slider to throw it against lefties, something he couldn't really do a year ago.

"I had it last year, but it was inconsistent," Miranda said. "It’s gotten a lot better, helped gotten me out of a lot of situations against lefties. Before whenever I faced lefties I would just go fastball. I couldn’t throw a changeup to a lefty, it would go in on them. [UM coach Jim Morris] always pushed me to develop a third pitch to make me more effective. I was fastball-changeup all through last year. It helps me with righties. But against lefties, it was all fastball. Once I developed that slider, it throws them off. It’s helped me out a lot."


Jim Morris > For all of those who wanted Jim Morris out after his team's 4-7 start, chew on this: Since the 61-year old skipper's return from gall bladder surgery and its complications (officially March 8), UM's struggling bats have gone from hitting .229 to .277. 

Lead-off hitter Zeke DeVoss said Morris calmed he and his teammates down and got them to focus on what they needed to do after being frustrated by the little success they were having with their new wood-like bats.

"We had a team meeting a couple days after I got out of the hospital and I told them they needed to relax and start swinging, getting their hacks in, don’t get cheated," Morris said.

"I felt like we were too defensive as a team in the way we were swinging the bat. We were trying to execute, feeling for it, not relaxing, particularly in 2-1, 3-1 counts we weren’t getting our hacks in. If you're out in front, that’s fine. I don’t care. If there was a fastball, step into it and drive it. I think once that started happening, we were fine. I think that helped with the pitching too. Now they were going out and not thinking about I got to shut them out every time. It was just kind of a team thing. We played better after that. We still got a huge month left in the season before the ACC Tournament."

DeVoss, who started the season 11 for 48 (.229) with only six runs scored, has hit .350 (35 for 100) and scored 37 runs since Morris' return. Clean-up hitter Harold Martinez, who got off to a 6 for 40 start (.150) with only five RBI, has hit .356 (37 for 104) and driven in 27 RBI over the same span.

> Speaking of Martinez, it's amazing how he's gone from hitting an ACC-leading 21 homers a year ago to hitting just three entering this weekend's series against the Noles. But before anybody jumps on him, realize UM has hit just 23 homers to date. Last year, they slugged 106 as a team.

Give Martinez credit for finding other ways to help his team. He leads the Canes with nine sacrifice hits and has nine multi-RBI games. He's also currently on a 10-game hitting streak.

> Morris isn't complaining about the lack of home run production. He likes low-scoring baseball and games that have to be won with steals and sacrifice bunts (UM leads the ACC in both). He just wishes the new bats being made "were equal."

"If every bat was the exactly the same, then it would come to players and execution," Morris said. "But it's not."

> Morris believes his team is in a strong position to host a regional if it wins this series against the Seminoles.

As it stands, Baseball America projects UM as the first "bubble team out" when it comes to hosting a regional because UM is still fifth in the pecking order among ACC hosting candidates. According to Baseball America, though UM has the head-to-head edge over UNC, it is still just 7-8 against the top 50, compared with UNC's 10-6 mark. Should UM win its series against Florida State this weekend, it will pass the idle Tar Heels, however.

Still, Baseball America says, Stetson (No. 25) could have a better chance to earn the Sunshine State's third regional site, because the committee has shown a preference for putting regionals in new places when mid-majors have put together strong seasons. The RPI might wind up causing Stetson to be a No. 2 seed (though its 8-3 mark against the top 50 and 15-4 record against the top 100 both trump Miami's 7-8 and 16-11 marks), but it could still host as a No. 2, potentially with UM as the No. 1.

March 03, 2011

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."

February 07, 2011

Brissett signs with UF; Canes focus on other QBs

The Miami Hurricanes' chase of Palm Beach Dwyer quarterback Jacoby Brissett is officially over.

Tate Forcier Three days after announcing at a basketball he wanted to play for the Gators, the U.S. Army All-American quarterback faxed his signed National Letter of Intent to Gainesville on Monday despite the efforts of his mother to sway him back toward the Canes.

Brissett (6-5, 225) was the top remaining unsigned quarterback in the country and said on Friday that he narrowed his choices down to UM and UF. But he chose to follow his heart -- and three former Dwyer teammates -- to Gainesville, against his mother's wishes.

Former Michigan standout Tate Forcier and Rutgers freshman All-American Tom Savage remain transfer possibilities for the Hurricanes at quarterback. Both would have to sit out the 2011 season if they picked UM per NCAA transfer rules. Forcier is reportedly going to visit UM sometime this week.

Just my opinion, but of the two, Savage is more likely to end up a Hurricane. Forcier had academic issues before leaving Michigan and is more likely to end up closer to home on the West Coast. Savage's grandparents own a home in South Florida.

> As the Canes look for a quarterback of the future, here is an interesting read from Rivals about Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers, who had zero offers coming out of high school.

> The Hurricanes could end up adding another defensive tackle to their 2011 signing class sometime this week. According to InsideTheU.com, Bradenton Manatee senior Quinton Pompey (6-3, 275) still remains unsigned and is waiting on Miami according to his high school coach. Pompey's other offers are from Georgia Southern and Eastern Kentucky. Pompey was lightly recruited because of academic struggles, but has apparently worked them out according to his coach.

> Men's basketball coach Frank Haith, whose team pulled out two close home wins last week to keep their faint postseason hopes alive, said it looks like his two leading scorers Durand Scott and Malcolm Grant, and starting swingman Garrius Adams, finally appear to be getting past the flu.

The bigger concern? Sophomore center Reggie Johnson, who continues to battle issues with his right foot. Johnson, averaging 12 points and 9.9 rebounds a game (third most in the ACC), had bone spurs in his foot earlier this season. He played a season-high 34 minutes in Saturday's overtime win over Virginia.

"He has a reaction in his foot," Haith said during Monday's ACC teleconference. "We got to see that goes. He didn't practice Friday and I think he's going to be tabled at practice. We'll wait to see what the doctors say today."

> ESPN's Bruce Feldman said former UM coach Randy Shannon is supposed to interview for the vacant defensive coordinator job at Maryland later this week. Shannon interviewed for the same position with UCLA last month.

> Looks like another former Hurricanes assistant has landed at Alabama. Joe Pannunzio, who coached the special teams and tight ends under Shannon the last four years, has reportedly been hired in an "off the field role" by Nick Saban. Alabama hired former offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland last month.

> Just a reminder: the Hurricanes baseball team will have its team banquet Friday night at 6 p.m. and Fan Fest Saturday at 3 p.m. Jim Morris' team opens its season at home a week from Friday (Feb. 18) against Rutgers.

> Also, in case you missed Jorge Milian's blog from last week, UM is in talks with Florida State about scheduling next season's game as the season-opener on Labor Day. It's still not finalized.

August 17, 2010

Grandal signs with Reds before deadline

Former University of Miami catcher Yasmani Grandal has agreed to a four-year deal worth $3.2 million with the Cincinnati Reds late Monday night, the deadline for teams to sign players. Grandal, the ACC Player of the Year, was picked 12th overall in June by the Reds.

Grandal, who received a $2 million signing bonus, had of the most impressive offensive seasons in UM history, leading the Atlantic Coast Conference in batting average (.411), slugging percentage (.729) and on-base percentage (.538). 

"It brings me a new life," Grandal said Monday night. "I'm playing a little kids game and getting paid for it. Mom is delighted."

Grandal said he's been told he'll head out to Arizona for two weeks before being reassigned. "They're going to see how prepared I am and then after two weeks, they'll send me out somewhere," Grandal said. "I could go to Low-A, High-A. I guess if they think I'm ready I can go to Double A. We'll see."

June 09, 2010

Road Trip: Hurricanes Baseball Going North

Truckster1Good evening Miami fans, hope you are enjoying Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

Quite a series, eh?

Well, we should have quite an interesting baseball series this weekend in Gainesville.

The Canes and the Gators have had some epic postseason matchups in the past and this one should be pretty good as well.

First team to two wins goes to Omaha.

Got to love that kind of incentive.

Anyway, I'll be taking over this blog for the next couple of days (unless Manny gets a few more Northwestern kids to commit to Randy Shannon) and will try and keep everyone updated on the doings of the baseball bunch.

My rental car is fueled up, my bag is packed and I'm ready for a few hours of sleep before rolling up the Turnpike first thing in the morning.

I will have updates from Thursday's early afternoon practice in Gainesville from both Miami and Florida and will also be updating my Facebook and Twitter sites throughout the weekend. 

Feel free to sign up and join the fun.

For instant updates, sign up here:

Twitter: @OnFrozenPond

Facebook: On Frozen Pond

Go ahead and sign up for both. Might as well. Don't cost nothing.

Well, that's all I got. See you at the Turkey Lake Service Plaza.

-- George Richards

April 06, 2010

At midway point, UM baseball better than '09

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.

Yasmani Grandal 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.

February 18, 2010

Two aces anchor UM pitching staff

Jim Morris knows you can win with speed and you can win with power in your lineup. He's done it both ways with the Hurricanes. But the one ingredient the veteran of 27 seasons knows he can't win without is pitching. And at least on paper, the 2010 Hurricanes appear to have one of the strongest veteran staffs in the country.

Eric EricksonIt's headlined not by just one ace, but two veteran Friday night starters: left-handers Eric Erickson and Chris Hernandez. Erickson, back after having missed the 2009 season following Tommy John surgery, has a career 19-5 record with a .327 ERA, 131 strike outs and 34 walks in 30 starts. Hernandez, Collegiate Baseball Newspaper's National Freshman of the Year in 2008, is 18-5 in his career with a 3.20 ERA with 210 strikeouts and 49 walks in 33 starts. 

And their teammates can't stop raving about how good they've looked -- especially Erickson, who spent the 2009 season watching his teammates struggle without a consistent No. 2 option.

"He's way better than he was two years ago," All-American catcher Yasmani Grandal said of Erickson. "He's always had his control. Right now, he has control with a better fastball, better stuff. He's worked on his offspeed and that makes him that much better. Overall, he's just a better pitcher."

Said sophomore third baseman Harold Martinez of Erickson: "He's just as good as everyone said he would be. He spots the ball perfectly, a lot of good off-speed stuff that stays low. He gives you nothing good to hit."

Hernandez, last year's Friday night starter, has received similar compliments after failing to live up to his stellar freshman season when he went 11-0 with a 2.72 ERA. He said he plans to how Erickson pitches on Friday nights and to take plenty of notes. 

“The way we throw, we feed off each other," Hernandez said. "We work together. I’m going to get that great opportunity to watch him throw on Friday nights and really see what the weaknesses are on the other team.”

Chris Hernandez UM pitching coach J.D. Arteaga said both will be on a strict 85 pitch count early on, but believes there is no reason to be concerned with either of his aces getting tired. "All we can go by so far is what he's done in intrasquad and he's had no setbacks," Arteaga said of Erickson. "His arm has been great. His velocity is good. Both him and Hernandez threw five innings last week and showed no signs of getting tired. Like any pitcher, he's going to get tired at some point. If we have to get him out early, we'll get him out early. But I wouldn't think he needs any special treatment than any other pitcher."

> Arteaga said he and Morris "could have gone either way" in deciding which of the two aces got the Friday night starter's role. Morris said Erickson simply showed more consistency. "His stuff is great," Arteaga said. "From the first time E's been on the mound, he's been throwing strikes, which is what makes him who he is, makes him successful.

"He just has to be very consistent in what he does. He doesn't throw real hard, but he throws hard enough. His curveball is not great, but it's good enough. The changeup is a very plus-plus pitch and he throws them for strikes with any count. That's always going to win in baseball."

> Arteaga said Hernandez's struggles last year (7-5, 4.76 ERA) had more to do with the stress he put on himself than the effort he was giving. Still, Arteaga admits, adjustments had to be made. And it appears Hernandez has made them. "He's doing a much better job getting ahead of guys and really being able to use his pitches as an advantage," Arteaga said. "His velocity was down a little bit last year. It's back up to what it was before. The biggest thing with him is not doing too much and just being Chris. Not trying to get everybody out with every pitch he throws. That's what got him in trouble last year."

> The third pitcher in UM's rotation will be sixth-year senior Jason Santana. The 6-3, 215-pound right hander has had three arm surgeries between high school and college. Yet, after going 6-1 a year ago with a 5.40 ERA, Morris said Santana has been as consistent as anyone in the spring and fall. "He's going after people, got a great strike-walk ratio, has pitched well enough to be in there," Morris said. "To me his only question is can he hold up physically, and hopefully he will."

> Freshman left-hander Steven Ewing won the battle with freshman right-hander Eric Whaley for the midweek, No. 4 starter's role. Arteaga said Ewing would likely see some middle relief work this weekend against Rutgers along with Whaley.

> The closer's role was won by senior David Gutierrez, who has big shoes to fill after the departure of All-American Kyle Bellamy. Gutierrez, whose older brother Carlos was UM's closer in 2008, has started 20 games in his career and gone 11-6 with a 4.33 ERA. Arteaga and Morris said he has the ingredients to handle it. Junior left-hander Iden Nazario, who went 7-6 with a 7.26 ERA in 15 starts a year ago in the No. 4 role, will be his setup man. 

"We didn't know what his brother was going to do a couple years ago and he went from the starting role to the closer role," Arteaga said of Gutierrez. "He throws strikes, has good movement. He can field his position, hold runners, do all the things you ask of a closer. As far as whether or not he's going to do a great job, we really don't know until he goes out there in the ninth inning, it's a one run ball game and its a pressure situation. Without a doubt, the toughest inning to throw is the ninth inning. But he's got all the things you need to be successful. So, we'll see once he gets out there."

If Gutierrez struggles, the Hurricanes might turn to freshman right hander E.J. Encinosa. "Stuff wise, he has the best stuff to be the closer on our team," Arteaga said. "It's a matter of getting his feet wet early on. Hopefully, he responds well to pressure in certain situations. If not this year, very soon I could see him being the closer. the guy throws 90-94 with great sink and a big time slider. If he throws strikes and handles the pressure well, we're going to have a good closer on our hands the next couple of years."

> Three pitchers are returning from offseason surgery according to Morris. But only two will likely be back in time for this season: right-handed reliever Taylor Wulf (2-0, 3.24 ERA) and sophomore right-hander Travis Miller (3-0, 4.33 ERA). Morris hopes to get both back by next month. It will probably take a little more time for senior right-hander Michael Rudman, who was 3-0 with a 1.71 ERA last year out of the bullpen. "Wulf is throwing long now, coming on good," Morris said. "[Miller] had [elbow nerve] surgery, but it's a lot less complicated than elbow or shoulder surgery. He's throwing now. We need him in the rotation."

Does UM have right chemistry to return to CWS?

Scott Lawson wasn't happy with the way the 2009 season ended for the University of Miami baseball team. It wasn't just the fact the Hurricanes were eliminated by the Gators or failed to make it out of the regional round for the second time in the last three years. Lawson felt there was something rotten at the core of the Canes. 

Scott Lawson  He was upset with the same thing coach Jim Morris said plagued UM down the stretch in 2009 -- a lack of team chemistry. It was more than obvious role players weren't happy with their roles and guys on the bench weren't happy riding the pine. It caused friction, especially as the season spiraled away with seven losses in the month of May.

"Once adversity hit, everyone started panicking. People's attitudes started going different paths,'' the All-ACC second baseman said during the team's media day on Wednesday. "I think everyone last year was too uptight and too serious about everything. Some guys couldn't take jokes. Baseball, you can't be serious and emotional. You have to relax, have fun and play the game. It just seems like this year, everyone has that swagger that we're going to beat people and have fun.

"It seems like every day we're goofing around in the locker room and having a ball. But when we get on the field, everyone is so serious. We're all focused to get better in practice and focused on every little drill that we do. Coach puts out a big practice schedule, we're not complaining. We're working to get better."

The 2010 Hurricanes get started on what they hope will be a return trip to Omaha Friday night when they host Rutgers at Alex Rodriguez Park at Mark Light Field. Coming off a 38-22 season, the roster is sprinkled with plenty of veterans (especially in the pitching staff) and more than a few new faces. All-American catcher Yasmani Grandal, one of two Canes named to the Golden Spikes Award Watch List on Thursday (pitcher Chris Hernandez is the other), is the big bat in the middle of the lineup. But the foundation is speed throughout the lineup and an experienced and talented 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation.

"I don't think we're good enough right now to say we're a shoe-in to be Omaha bound. But we have good talent, good athletes who want to get better," Morris said. "And the bottom line is whether you're a great athlete or not is, CYP. Can You Play? Can we get these guys together to play as a unit and can they get better? Once you get to Omaha, it's proven by many schools its all about who gets hot."


Morris didn't share an exact batting order with us Wednesday, but he did talk about who will be in the mix at each position and where they would probably be hitting in the lineup. Here a few notes...

Jim Morris > Freshman Stephen Perez, who played for former Hurricane Javi Rodriguez at Gulliver Prep, is slotted to start at shortstop and leadoff Friday. Drafted in the 18th round by the Reds, Perez is player Morris likens more to his high school coach than former shorstop Ryan Jackson. "He's a guy who can steal bases, bunt, play very solid defense," Morris said. "He's a switch hitter who can get on base.

> Scott Lawson, who hit .333 last season with four home runs, 34 RBI and 10 stolen bases, will start at second and likely hit behind Perez and in front of Grandal. Morris expects Lawson to steal more bases and benefit from hitting in front of Grandal, who hit .299, but belted 16 home runs and 45 RBI while walking 33 times and striking out 37. There could be times, Morris said, when Lawson moves to first base to allow freshman infielder Frankie Ratcliff to get in the lineup and play second. "I have no problems playing first," Lawson said. "It's just a bigger glove with the same ground balls."

> The team's most improved player according to Morris is sophomore catcher David Villasuso. He'll bat in the designated hitter spot when Grandal is behind the plate and switch every so often. The 5-10, 200-pound former Florida Christian star tore it up in the fall and is expected to hit much better than his .233 average with 6 RBI a year ago.

> Sophomore Harold Martinez, who hit .270 with nine home runs and 47 RBI, will be starting at third base and likely hitting behind Villasuso. Martinez, who made 19 errors last season, said he made defense his offseason focus. "I've worked hard getting bigger, stronger, faster," said Martinez, who has gained eight pounds of muscle in the offseason and is now listed at 6-3, 208. "I think I improved a lot from last year. Hopefully I'll have a better year." 

> First base is likely to become a spot of rotation with the hot bat staying in the lineup the longest. Senior Ryan Perry, who received a medical hardship waiver after missing the 2009 season, will get first crack after hitting .250 with 8 RBI in 23 game in 2008. He'll rotate with sophomore Rony Rodriguez, who hit .270 with two homers and 10 RBI at Miami-Dade last season. If both struggle and Radcliffe swings a better bat, Lawson could become the team's regular first baseman.

> The outfield: Sophomore Nate Melendres, who hit .272 with 20 RBI and 7 stolen bases in 51 starts last year, is the lone returning outfielder from a year ago. He'll move to right to allow speedy freshman Zeke DeVoss (who hit .518 with 18 RBI, 19 steals at Titusville Astronaut High) to take over in center field. "Zeke's the fastest guy on the team," Morris said. "He just has to learn to make better contact." Junior College transfer Chris Pelaez, who played at Louisville during the Cardinals run to the 2007 College World Series and sat out the 2008 season, will start out in left field. He hit .393 with five homers and 39 RBI at Miami-Dade last year. 

> Freshman Michael Broad a standout at Nova High and a Little League World Series star, could push for playing time in left or see time at short, third and second base because of his bat.  "Mike is a guy that can hit," Morris said. "That's his biggest asset. He can swing the bat. He knows how to play the infield. He's learning how to play the outfield. Probably initially his best shot to get in the lineup is in the outfield. If he hits, he'll play. But we're going to find a place for him. He's played some second, some short, some third and some left field. He's a guy if he hits, we'll have him in the lineup."

For more on the pitching staff, check out the next blog which should be up by Friday.

October 16, 2009

Fall ball opens with fresh faces, questions

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.

UM dugout The other reason for his glee? The start of fall baseball. "I enjoy what I do," Morris said. "My job is also my hobby."

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."

Chris Hernandez 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.

Second baseman Scott Lawson, a senior, is among the few veteran starters returning for UM "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...

June 16, 2009

Roger Tomas hired as baseball assistant

The Hurricanes aren't in Omaha. But the baseball program is still making news.

Today, UM announced the hiring of former infielder Roger Tomas as an assistant coach. Tomas was here not too long ago. He started 186 games from 2003-2007 and spent the last three years in the Detroit Tigers farm system.

He will work with outfielders and coach first base. More than anything, Tomas will be a good role model for Canes players. He was named the 2007 ACC Male Scholar Athlete of the Year and served as team captain.

One thing Jim Morris talked about after his team was eliminated from the postseason by the Gators was how he felt there was a problem with team chemistry. Tomas, being a young guy, will probably be able to relate to some of the young players and watch out for it a little better than anybody else on Morris' staff.