Solid starters, new catcher show promise

Zach Beeker//The Miami Hurricane

A note to drivers, bikers and pedestrians that frequent the corner of Ponce De Leon Boulevard and San Amaro Drive: beware of foul balls, because Alex Rodriguez Park at Mark Light Field is open for business.

The 13th-ranked University of Miami baseball team will begin its 2012 season Friday night against Rutgers. It’s the fourth consecutive year that the teams will meet on opening weekend.

“Teams change so much … in college baseball, with guys signing pro and graduating and all those variables,” said coach Jim  Morris, now in his 19th season at the helm for the Hurricanes. “The fact is that Rutgers will have a lot of new guys in the lineup. This opening series, you don’t have a very good scouting report.”

Miami comes into the season with one of the best pitching rotations in the country, returning all of its starters from last season, albeit with a couple of changes.

Junior EJ Encinosa, who pitched on Sundays for the Hurricanes in 2011, has moved to the bullpen and is the leading candidate to be Miami’s closer. Graduate student Eric Erickson, who last pitched for the Hurricanes in 2010 and is coming back from his second Tommy John surgery, will move into the Friday night starter’s slot.

“It’s a talented rotation and it’s one that I go to bed feeling good about at night,” pitching coach JD Arteaga said. “But they’ve still got to stay healthy and still got to get people out.”

Miami’s starting staff finished with a combined 3.04 earned run average in 2011, and a 2.90 ERA when taking Encinosa out of the equation, who struggled towards the end of the season.

After Erickson opens up the Rutgers series, junior Eric Whaley will start on Saturday night, while sophomore Bryan Radziewski will close things out on Sunday afternoon. Junior Steven Ewing will pitch on weeknights for Miami and will get his first start on Wednesday at Florida Gulf Coast.

Morris said the starters will be held to 80-pitch limits, and the pitch count will be pushed to 90 for next weekend’s series.

Aside from Erickson’s return and the big potential for the starting rotation, the other big news heading into this season is the addition of senior catcher Peter O’Brien, who transferred to Miami from Bethune-Cookman University to be closer to his family.

He was drafted in the third round of the 2011 MLB Draft by Colorado, and finished three years of baseball at Cookman with a .336 batting average, 154 RBI and 38 homeruns.