After two seasons as one of the Miami Hurricanes top hitters, designated hitter/first baseman Danny Matienzo decided he needed a new challenge. So, with the graduation of catcher Greg Lovelady, Matienzo decided he wanted to be the man behind the plate for the Hurricanes.
Matienzo, who saw spot duty at the catcher position during his high school career at Christopher Columbus High School in Miami, started opening day 2002 as Hurricane pitcher Troy Roberson’s battery mate. And although Matienzo’s slow start at the plate prompted head coach Jim Morris to move him back to DH, the 5-11 junior is still hoping to be able to move back behind the plate before the end of the season.
“One of my goals this season now is to be able to catch and hit,” Matienzo said. “I think I could do both, and all summer I was able to do both.”
“But when your catching, you’re like the quarterback out there and I have a lot of responsibilities out there besides worrying about hitting.”
As a designated hitter and first baseman, Matienzo became one of the Hurricanes’s most deadliest hitters during the 2000 and 2001 seasons. As a freshman, Matienzo hit .348 while his 58 RBI’s were second on the team. Last season, Matienzo lead the squad with 64 RBI’s and 127 total bases, while his 13 home runs placed second on the ‘Canes. However, Matienzo made his mark in the 2001 College World Series, leading the team with a .588 average, while hitting three longballs and driving in nine runs overall. Matienzo was not surprised with the huge postseason output.
“I’ve done awesome both years in postseason,” Matienzo said. “I think it’s the andrelin and excitement of it being postseason pumps me up.”
However, one of Matienzo’s lifelong goals was to become an everyday catcher and the right-hander saw a golden opportunity with two true freshman coming in to vie for the spot. Lovelady, who is now the Hurricanes catching coach, worked hard with Matienzo before the season to try and get the basics down.
“We really needed to work with Danny on everything,” Lovelady said. “I think that his biggest problem early on was throwing, and once he got that down, all that raw talent started to show.”
Lovelady also saw Matienzo’s determination to learn the position, something that has been one of the junior’s top qualities.
“He’s a really tough, hard nosed kid,” Lovelady said. “He really wants to excel and it bothers him when he doesn’t excel.”
Matienzo started four of Miami’s first six games behind the plate. However, nine innings of catching took a toll on Matienzo’s numbers behind the plate, as he hit just 3-23 during that span. So, before last weekend’s series with Minnesota, Matienzo decided to work on his swing.
“One of the problems was that I wasn’t getting my foot down and I was opening up and trying to pull everything,” Matienzo said. “I came in with a plan to try and hit the ball into left field and it worked.”
Morris also decided to put freshman Eric San Pedro behind the plate and move Matienzo back to the designated hitter spot. The move payed off for both players as Matienzo hit .556 with five home runs and eight RBI’s in the three game sweep, while San Pedro hit .500, driving in three runs. Morris wasn’t surprised with Matienzo’s outburst.
“I think he needed to relax and get his confidence back,” Morris said. “Last weekend, he stepped back, hit a home run and then all of a sudden hit four more.”
Hitting coach Gino DiMare saw this past weekend as one of Matienzo’s typical streaks.
“Danny is more of a streak hitter,” DiMare said. “He’s one of those guys that puts up huge numbers in his streaks, rather than just out together a few 1 for 3 games.”
“That doesn’t mean that he can’t hit on a regular basis, because he’s one of our top hitters, if not our best hitter.”
Although Morris is planning on going with San Pedro at the catcher’s spot for the time being, that doesn’t mean that Matienzo won’t get his chance.