In a week that was clouded with NCAA sanctions, the unexpected resignation of longtime pitching coach Lazaro Collazo, and a devastating injury to No. 1 pitcher Dan Touchet, the Hurricane baseball team showed its resolve by winning its series against The Citadel this past weekend.
Now the ‘Canes head into this weekend’s series against the Tennessee Volunteers in Knoxville armed with a new pitching coach in J.D. Arteaga and a new starter in J.D. Cockroft.
Arteaga was head coach Jim Morris’s only choice to fill the void left by Collazo’s departure. The former college and minor league pitcher is the Hurricanes’ all-time wins and starts leader and was a protEgE of Collazo. His jersey number 33 was retired at Mark Light Field after he left the university.
“I am very comfortable with the choice to bring in J.D. as the new coach,” Morris said. “He wants to coach and is familiar with the school and players.”
Arteaga has wanted to coach at UM ever since leaving the school in 1997 to pitch in the New York Mets and Houston Astros organizations.
“This was the only job that could get me to stop playing,” Arteaga said. “I look forward to sharing what I’ve learned with these pitchers.”
Arteaga doesn’t plan on changing what his mentor Collazo had been doing with the staff.
“Lazer was a father to me and what I know about pitching has come from him,” Arteaga said. “I don’t plan on changing any of his concepts and methods with the pitchers.”
Arteaga’s staff will enter this weekend without Touchet ,its top starter, who will be sidelined for at least four weeks with an ACL injury. Cockroft will get the nod on Friday night’s series opener.
The Volunteers are led by lefthander Derek Tharpe, a transfer from Samford, and righty Brandon Crowe, who went 6-0 as a reliever in 2001 before missing the 2002 season following Tommy John surgery. Tennessee’s catcher Javi Herrera entered the season ranked No. 59 in Baseball America’s top 100 players in the nation.
Tennessee is currently 9-1 and ranked in the top 25. Coach Morris anticipates a hard-fought series in a tough place to play.
“Tennessee is always a good team and Knoxville isn’t an easy place to win,” Morris said. “It is cold there and there are always good crowds.”
The ‘Canes are hoping to build of the offensive explosion from The Citadel series, which included Ryan Braun hitting three home runs and catcher Erick San Pedro jacking his first two career home runs over the right-field wall of Mark Light Field on Sunday.
Morris hopes San Pedro, who has struggled early in the season, will use his big game on Sunday as motivation for this weekend.
“It was good to see Erick hitting the ball well,” Morris said. “We certainly need offense from that position.”
Morris attributes the improvement in the team’s power to strong winds and concentration.
“I think we did a good job of taking advantage of the daytime wind and going with pitches instead of trying to pull everything,” Morris said. “It was a great weekend to be a hitter here.”
Now the ‘Canes are looking to put the events of last week out of their minds and head into Knoxville focused on winning an important series on the road.
“Last Thursday and Friday were two unbelievable days that were hard to deal with,” Morris said. “I was proud of how we came back on Saturday and Sunday and now we’re just looking to go into Tennessee and take the series.”
Eric Kalis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org