University of Miami baseball coach Jim Morris was so sick with pneumonia at the end of last season that he still insists he didn’t watch the Hurricanes lose in the NCAA regionals from his hospital bed — though others said he watched on an iPad.
His winningest pitcher, first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference left-hander Bryan Radziewski, has his own version of amnesia.
Radziewski doesn’t remember the 2013 Major League Baseball Draft because he only saw the first few minutes despite his 1.78 ERA, 9-3 record and draft-eligible status.
“You know there’s a Heat game on!” Radziewski said that night, laughing, before acknowledging that he didn’t expect to be drafted early because he had shoulder surgery the previous offseason and didn’t have the velocity he needed.
On Friday, they will both be at Alex Rodriguez Park for the 7 p.m. season opener against Maine — along with the other three veteran starting pitchers, a rarity in college baseball and an advantage that gives the Hurricanes their best chance in years to return to Omaha, Neb., for the College World Series.
“These guys, you put them together — 1-2-3-4 — it’s got to be as good of a rotation back-to-back-to-back-to-back as there is in college baseball,” said Morris, now “in perfect health” and optimistic about his Canes, who are ranked 13th by Collegiate Baseball, 16th by Baseball America and 17th in the USA Today coaches’ poll after starting 2013 unranked. “Same rotation as last year, which is amazing.”
That rotation includes: Friday starter Chris Diaz, a 6-0, 195-pound, left-handed junior with a sinking fastball and hard slider; Saturday starter Radziewski, a 5-10, 195-pound left-handed redshirt junior with a nasty slider; Sunday starter Andy Suarez, a 6-2, 205-pound left-handed junior regarded as UM’s top pro prospect and “most complete prototypical pitcher with a fastball, curve, slider, changeup, all for strikes,” UM pitching coach J.D. Arteaga said; and midweek starter Javi Salas, a 6-4, 227-pound right-handed senior who favors his sinker and slider.
Diaz (7-5, 1.64 ERA last season) and Radziewski had the second- and third-best ERAs in the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2013, with Suarez, who had lousy run support, at 3-6 with a 3.95 ERA and Salas at 5-5 with a 3.18 ERA.
The bullpen, Morris said, is the team’s biggest unknown, with several players taking turns until a rotation is formed.
Left-handed senior A.J. Salcines struggled last season but will likely start out as the closer.
“We’ve had pretty good 1-2 punches in the past,” Arteaga said, “but as far as having four guys across the board, this is definitely the most complete starting rotation we’ve had. It’s very rare.”
And they’re not alone.
After finishing a disappointing 2013 season at 37-25 with a team that could barely hit (.258) and score runs (next to last in the ACC with 4.4 per game), the stellar pitching staff should get a lift this season with a recruiting class rated fourth nationally by Collegiate Baseball and sixth by Baseball America.
These players, unlike most Hurricanes the past couple of years, have size and power, with four of them choosing to come to college after being drafted.
Hialeah Mater Academy graduate Willie Abreu, who is 6-4 and 225 pounds, was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in the 14th round and will play in right field.
Plantation American Heritage grad Zack Collins, 6-3 and 225 pounds, was drafted by the Reds in the 27th round and is expected to start at first base, though he is listed as a catcher and played behind the plate in high school.
Derik Beauprez, 6-5 and 233 pounds, is from Cherry Creek, Colo., was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 25th round and could be used as a reliever as well as a designated hitter.
And Jacob Heyward, the 6-3, 201-pound younger brother of Atlanta Braves outfielder Jason Heyward, was drafted by the Braves in the 38th round and is from McDonough, Ga.
“Going to the College World Series will be awesome,” said Collins, who is certain his Hurricanes, whose last of four national titles came in 2001, will get to Omaha for the first time since 2008. “Every time we break it down, we don’t say, ‘1-2-3 U!’ we say, ‘1-2-3 Omaha!’ ”
The four starters certainly believe it.
Two of them did get drafted last year — Radziewski in the 29th round by the St. Louis Cardinals and Salas in the 38th by the Minnesota Twins — but said they knew they could improve their craft while vying for a national title.
“It’s incredible,” Salas said. “We’re the four best of friends.”
Added Suarez: “Everyone has gotten like 10 times better.”
Baseball America college writer Aaron Fitt said Wednesday that he believes the Canes are good enough “to host a regional and get to Omaha — if the offense improves.”
“To have all four pitchers back is a luxury,” he said. “It will give them a chance to win a lot of games.’’