Series preview: Canes look to open season in style against Rutgers

Photo credit: Josh Halper

After another long offseason, baseball is back at Mark Light Field for the Miami Hurricanes, who will look to put behind them a winter filled with high preseason rankings and expectations when they commence the 2020 season with a three-game series against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights in Coral Gables from Feb. 14-16.

 Friday, Feb. 14 7 p.m.

 Saturday, Feb. 15 7 p.m.

 Sunday, Feb 16 1 p.m.

UM swept the same Rutgers program to open the 2019 season, a season that ended with a 41- 20 record, a mark that Miami wants to improve from this spring.

Head coach Gino DiMare’s pitchers will be key to ensuring another unblemished opening weekend for the Canes this year.

Pitching Matchups

On Tuesday, DiMare announced the order in which his pitchers will start in weekend series. Due to the depth of his rotation, it wasn’t easy to decide which one would actually get the chance to go in each series opener, but the second-year skipper went with experience in naming redshirt-senior Brian Van Belle as the Friday night starter. Van Belle led all Hurricane starters with a 3.30 ERA in 2019, while striking out 84 batters, walking just 24 and allowing a .247 batting average against over 16 starts a season ago. He pitched against the Scarlett Knights in the 2019 series finale, delivering six shutout innings on five strikeouts and a walk.

Junior Chris McMahon will take the ball Saturday, the same night of the week he pitched for much of last spring. McMahon logged a 3.37 ERA in 2019, allowed a team starter-best .229 batting average against, and registered 67 strikeouts with just 23 walks. The West Chester, Penn. native faced the Scarlett Knights for five innings in the Saturday night game a year ago and allowed a single earned run in his first of 12 starts.

Slade Cecconi, a sophomore who many expected to claim the Friday night job, will instead go on Sundays. His 89 strikeouts were a team-high last season, while allowing a 4.16 ERA. In his 17 appearances and 13 starts, Cecconi allowed opposing hitters to bat .249 and gave up 18 walks.

The Scarlet Knights and first year head coach Steve Owens also unveiled their starters for the series, which features a couple of familiar faces from last year’s matchup.

Harry Rutkowski will be the flagship starter for the Knights and will pitch the season opener. The junior left-hander takes a 4.08 ERA from 2019 into the new season and struck out a team-high 83 batters last year. He pitched the Saturday game against the Hurricanes last year, getting through three innings unscathed before the Miami bats chased him out of the contest after allowing five earned runs.

Tommy Genuario will open for Rutgers on Saturday after the redshirt-senior earned a spot in the rotation last season in Big Ten play. He stuck out 39, walked 25 and registered a 3.14 ERA in 2019, allowing two earned runs against the Hurricanes over 1.1 innings out of the bullpen late in the Sunday game a year ago.

Tevin Murray will take the mound on Sunday. The senior southpaw was named to the All-Big Ten Second Team in 2019, after recording a team-best 3.01 ERA and a 1.75 mark in the same statistic in conference action, good for third best in the Big Ten. His .200 batting average against was also a team-best, while he stuck out 81 hitters and walked just 36. He allowed three runs, including two earned while starting the Sunday game at UM last year, striking out seven and walking a single batter over 4.2 innings.

Returning Offense for Rutgers

The Knights return three hitters with batting averages above .250 in 2019. Senior Kevin Welsh batted .253 last year and will play in the infield this weekend. Sophomore Tim Dezzi will look to improve a .275 average from his freshman campaign, while junior Mike Nyisztor enters 2020 as RU’s top hitter from a spring ago, hitting .281.

But the Knights will still likely be challenged for power, hitting just 19 home runs as a team last season.

Surprise Absence for Miami

The University announced Thursday that Zamora is out for the season with a knee injury.Zamora hit .296 in 2019 while starting 50 games at shortstop, so his absence will be felt at the plate. Look for sophomore Anthony Vilar to possibly appear at SS, having started 11 games at the position last year when Zamora was out with an arm injury toward the end of ACC play.

In addition, DiMare made known the suspension of freshman pitcher Carson Palmquist, who may have a bullpen role in 2020. His return is also to be determined.

The loss of Zamora certainly adds an element of lineup shuffling, but UM should be able to manage, returning all but one other starter from the 2019 squad. Miami hit .291 and had 85 home runs last year, with a wide array of talent up and down the lineup.