UM set to battle Rutgers in first series of season

Junior designated hitter Randy Batista (2) slides into third during the Hurricanes’ win over UNC in April. Batista had 2 hits during the Canes’ 9-0 win over the Blue Devils in North Carolina Sunday afternoon. Victoria McKaba // Assistant Photo Editor

The light is just days away from turning on for the spring. The Mark Light Field that is.

With the season opener set for 7 p.m. Friday against Rutgers, the University of Miami will look to start 2017 on the right foot.

“Every opening day is great,” Coach Jim Morris said. “Every year is different. This year we have so many new players. A lot of those guys are going to have to contribute to be as good as we want to be.”

Given the loss of power hitters Zach Collins and Willie Abreu, the combination in the batting order is anyone’s guess from the leadoff to the ninth spot.

“It’s very interesting because I don’t know what the lineup is going to be,” Morris said. “Whatever lineup I put out there on Friday night, that won’t be the lineup in a month from now, I guarantee you.”

The first crack to fill the giant shoes left by Collins’ departure will be given to freshman catcher Michael Amditis.

“He’s playing very well,” Morris said of the Boca Raton native. “He had a really good alumni game. I felt like he did a great job catching. He swung the bat better than we expected.”

Another hole the Hurricanes will have to fill this weekend is at first base. Redshirt senior Chris Barr is battling an injury and could be unavailable against the Scarlet Knights. Freshman pitcher/first baseman Gregory Veliz will get a chance to start in place of Barr.

Morris sees Veliz as a dual-threat with the ability to pitch and hit at a high level.

“He’s got a great arm,” Morris said. “His ceiling is probably in his pitching. He’s going to start on Wednesdays right now. But he is also a very good hitter. I had him hitting fifth in the alumni game playing first base. We’d like for his bat to be in the lineup.”

Senior infielder Johnny Ruiz, who hit .342 last season and had a .974 fielding percentage, will be absent from the defensive side due to an injury but could be the Canes’ designated hitter this weekend.

The team will rely on junior college transfers Michael Burns and Jeb Bargfeldt to make immediate impacts for Miami. Burns is slated to start in right field, while Bargfeldt will join junior pitchers Jesse Lepore and Michael Mediavilla in the starting rotation.

Lepore, who served as UM’s midweek starter in 2016, will lead the Hurricanes on opening night.

“Jesse has a lot of pitches,” Amditis said. “His slider is really his go-to pitch with two strikes. He’s very confident. He really attacks hitters.”

Bargfeldt will take the mound Saturday night. The southpaw finished with a 4.45 ERA in 58.2 innings with Cisco College last season.

Mediavilla will conclude the series on Sunday afternoon for Miami. The Canes’ ace from a year ago recorded an 11-2 win-loss record with a 3.40 ERA in 18 starts last season. He led UM in strikeouts (85) and innings pitched (103.1).

“I think the strength of our team is going to be pitching,” Morris said about his team. “It better be defense too. I don’t think we’re going to score a lot of runs.”

While the Hurricanes will rely on pitching, they do have junior outfielder Carl Chester and redshirt senior infielder Edgar Michelangeli who are looking to build on their productive seasons at the plate last year.

“It’s different from last year – we had many big hitters and key veteran guys,” Chester said. “This year we’ll have to bunt a little more, steal more, hit and runs, and we won’t have the big guys to come up and hit the big home run like last year. We need to produce as a team, one through nine.”

With the preparation almost all but done, the players, coaches and fans await the first pitch against Rutgers.

“Rutgers has a bunch of tough New Jersey kids,” Morris said. “They are hardnosed guys who play the game hard. You better be ready to play, or they will beat you.”