After a hard-fought series against Florida, the baseball team’s schedule does not get any easier as the Tennessee Volunteers come to South Florida this weekend.
The Volunteers are 3-0 this season after a sweep of Morehead State in their season opening series last weekend, which included a 29-1 victory. The Hurricanes are 2-1 after the three games with the Gators. On Friday, the Hurricanes ran into Florida ace Justin Hoyman and were blanked 3-0. However, the ‘Canes were able to bounce back and win the next two games to take the series.
“It’s a little different against your own pitchers in practice,” catcher Erick San Pedro said. “It’s hard facing good pitchers like Hoyman early in the season.”
This weekend, Miami might have problems with another staff ace in Volunteers pitcher Luke Hochevar. Hochevar pitched seven shutout innings against Morehead State and struck out 10 hitters while only walking one in his team’s season opening 11-0 victory.
Last season, as a freshman, Hochevar faced the Hurricanes and pitched into the sixth inning, striking out 10 batters in the process, but the ‘Canes won anyway.
“He is a really good pitcher,” designated hitter Joey Hooft said. “He throws hard and he throws a lot of strikes.”
The Volunteers finished last season with a 31-24 record, good for fourth in the SEC East division. They struggled in conference play, going just 13-17 in the conference, and on the road the entire season, posting a 5-14 road mark. However, like Miami, this year’s team returns several starters and should have more success this season.
“Tennessee has an outstanding pitcher throwing against us Friday,” Head Coach Jim Morris said. “They are a well-coached team with a lot of players returning, so we expect them to play us hard.”
The Hurricanes have several question marks entering the series. The first one is their offense, which struggled mightily the first two games against the Gators. After getting shutout on Friday, Miami scored four runs Saturday, but only managed five hits, all of which came from the eighth hitter, San Pedro, and the ninth hitter, Richard Giannotti. In the first two games, the Hurricanes’ top seven batters in the lineup managed just two hits. On Sunday, the bats finally came to life as the ‘Canes put 19 runs on the board in a crucial victory.
However, injuries continue to plague Miami. On Sunday, the team lost outfielder Brian Barton for a few weeks with a broken left hand. In addition, closer George Huguet remains in the hospital suffering from pneumonia. These two injuries are the latest in a laundry list of hurt players, which includes Danny Figueroa, Andy Cohn, and Paco Figueroa. Paco Figueroa swung a bat on Tuesday and might be available this weekend.
“We’ve had a lot of injuries,” Morris said. “It’s a challenge but at the same time, it gives other guys a chance to step up and prove themselves.”
Another problem was that the starting pitchers had trouble going deep into games, which put a lot of pressure on their battered bullpen. Starter J.D. Cockroft only lasted four innings on Friday night, and Brandon Camardese did not get out of the third inning on Sunday. Only Vince Bongiovanni pitched into the sixth inning.
“We need to throw more strikes and innings. We need five to six innings out of our starting pitching,” Morris said.
On a positive note, pitcher Dan Touchet pitched four solid innings Friday night against Florida in his first action since Tommy John surgery last season. Touchet will remain the team’s long reliever and fourth starter.
“Dan threw very well and more importantly, he was pain free,” Morris said.
The key to beating the Volunteers will be to have quality pitching and to come through with hits at opportune times. The Hurricanes won both games against Florida when they scored the first run.
“We need to get ahead early,” Hooft said. “That way, we put the pressure on the other team. We expect to win every game and we feel we can be good enough to do that.”
While two out of three games against the Gators was acceptable, the ‘Canes are looking for a sweep of the Volunteers.
“We always want to sweep at home and split on the road,” Morris said. “If we can do that, with our schedule, our record will be very good.”
Darren Grossman can be contacted at email@example.com.