*Note- Normally, this will be a weekly series that will feature highlights and notes from the weekend and will be running on or around Mondays. Along with a recap of the previous week's games, there will also be a look ahead to the upcoming schedule that week for the Canes.
Hopefully everyone has survived their chocolate hangover and didn't have to spend the night on the couch, as it is time for baseball at The Light! For the 5th consecutive season, Rutgers University (31-25 in 2012) has made the trip down to kick off the season against the Hurricanes. Last season, Rutgers gave the Canes all they could handle and even though the end result was a sweep for Miami, it was not an easy weekend. Any northern team that has been cooped up for indoor practice after indoor practice tends to come out aggressively in their first games of the season, and I would expect nothing different from this Scarlet Knights team.
Kicking things off Friday night at 7pm (Eastern) will be Sophomore LHP Christian Diaz (2-1, 4.18 ERA in 2012) opposing Rutgers Senior LHP Rob Smorol (8-4, 3.46). I had expected Junior LHP Bryan Radziewski or Senior RHP Eric Whaley to get the nod here for the Canes, but Radziewski isn't recovering as quickly as expected from shoulder surgery and Whaley is suffering from shoulder tightness. The hope is that Whaley should be back on the bump in 2 weeks.
Diaz proved capable when he saw action in 2012, and filled in for two spot starts so he has at least some experience as a starter. Smoral started the opener last season for Rutgers, striking out six in four innings of work.
Saturday night's (7pm) match up brings us Junior RHP Javi Salas (6-3, 3.21) against Senior RHP Tyler Gebler (3-5, 4.54), with the Sunday finale (1pm) featuring Sophomore LHP Andrew Suarez (0-0, 19.29) vs. Senior Charlie Law (1-3, 6.35). Suarez will be seeing his first action since March of last year after suffering a shoulder injury and missing all but 3 innings of the season.
To go with their all-Senior starting rotation, Rutgers returns three starters on the infield, an All Big-East first team catcher, and an outfield that had a total of 523 at bats in 2012. In short, this is a team filled with experience and won't be afraid of playing on the big stage against the Hurricanes. I'm expecting nothing less than a three day battle by the former Big East opponents. Last year everything seemed to break the Canes way in their three game series, and I wouldn't expect that to happen again. This Rutgers team is a dangerous one to begin the season against.
Outfielder Chantz Mack is hobbled by a groin injury, and could be reduced to DH duty this weekend. If he cannot play the field, Mr. Versatile Tyler Palmer will fill in for Mack in Right Field. Freshman David Thompson could get the start at First Base, though that situation is also dependent on Mack's defensive home. Expect Chris Barr to take over at First if/when the DH spot opens up for (presumably) Thompson.
Senior Alex San Juan appears to have won the catching battle, and will start behind the dish Friday night. Brad Fieger returns to Third Base with Freshman Brandon Lopez manning Short Stop and Alex Fernandez taking over at Second Base. Regardless of who plays First Base between Thompson or Barr, I expect this infield to be vastly improved over last season. Athletically they are better, and I'm assuming they won't be fielding with both hands tied behind their back, as last years infield apparently did quite often. Michael Broad will take over full time in Left Field and Dale Carey will return to Center Field for the Canes.
Friday and Saturday's games will be televised on ESPN3, with Sunday's game being shown on Canes All-Access. WQAM 560 will have Friday's game and WVUM 90.5 will carry all three, so you'll have plenty of viewing/listening options.
Of course, if you're like me and live in an area that ESPN3 has forgotten, you can access live game stats through NeuLion. Another access point is the Awesome-Kick-Ass-Thank-You-Baseball-Gods-Master-Schedule that D1Baseball.com has cooked up for consumption.
It's finally here people, Hurricanes Baseball is upon us. See you at The Light!