Fall ball begins

Junior Iden Nazario hurls in a Sunday afternoon game last year. Nazario is one of the many candidates to possibly be the closer this year. Steven Stuts // The Miami Hurricane
Junior Iden Nazario hurls in a Sunday afternoon game last year. Nazario is one of the many candidates to possibly be the closer this year. Steven Stuts // The Miami Hurricane

The Hurricanes football team is not the only team practicing along San Amaro Drive at the break of dawn.

Last week the UM baseball team opened its fall practice at Alex Rodriguez Park at Mark Light Field. The Canes finished last year 38-22 as they extended their own record by reaching the NCAA Regionals for the 37th straight time.

The Canes have been tabbed with the No. 9 recruiting class according to the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper. Recruiting coordinator JD Arteaga brought in 13 newcomers, six of whom were drafted by a major league baseball team last June.

“This is a real athletic class. It gives us a lot of options offensively to run and put pressure on other teams,” Arteaga said.

Last year the Canes faltered in the first round of the NCAA Tournament after losing twice to the arch-rival Florida Gators in the Gainesville Regional. After the series head coach Jim Morris said team chemistry issues led to a disappointing ending.

“Right now our team has a good attitude, but it’s easy to have a good attitude when everyone is playing and everyone is doing the same thing,” said 17-year head coach Jim Morris who just signed a contract extension through 2015.

“We just finished going through a boot camp. If we run our program like the marines, I would love to be able to do that. When those guys come out of boot camp they care for each other and would take a bullet for each other. We just went through the toughest boot camp since I have been at Miami.”

Senior second baseman Scott Lawson knows the conditioning will pay off.

“We have been getting up at 5:30 in the morning every day and we run,” Lawson said. “Then we run in the afternoon when it is 100 [degrees]. Mentally it drains you. But every day you have to come out of the same day and get better.”

The Hurricanes will rely on small ball, defense and pitching as they look to win their fifth national championship in the program’s storied history.

The Canes return 84 percent of its innings pitched from last year. The only notable pitcher gone is standout closer Kyle Bellamy, who was drafted in the fifth round by the Chicago White Sox.

Fall practice will not only help workout chemistry issues and perfect the basic fundamentals, but also Morris will be evaluating potential candidates to fill the void All-American closer Bellamy left behind.

“I don’t think you can win big time whether you are at this level or the major league level if you do not have a closer,” Morris said. “Personally I will trade two starting pitchers for one closer. It takes a special guy to fill that role. It’s our biggest concern.”

The competition is wide open as the favorite to close, senior Taylor Wulf, is recovering from Tommy John surgery. Other candidates include senior right hander David Gutierrez and junior south paw Iden Nazario.

UM’s biggest asset will be their one-two punch at the top of the rotation with junior ace Chris Hernandez and redshirt junior Eric Erickson. Erickson missed the entire 2008 season due to elbow surgery but is throwing bullpens and is slated to be ready for the season opener. Erickson will be a huge addition as he is 19-5 with a 3.27 ERA in two seasons in his Cane career.

“I’ve had a great support staff and been working so hard to try and get completely healthy,” Erickson said. “It was very tough to miss a year. I’m such a competitor. As much as I would have loved to be out there, it just wasn’t my time with the injury.”

Justin Antweil may be contacted at jantweil@themiamihurricane.com.