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UCI's Hernandez prolific

College Baseball

Senior standout has added pitching to his offensive and defensive prowess, magnifying his star status.

May 19, 2011|By Barry Faulkner, barry.faulkner@latimes.com
(Kent Treptow / Daily…)

In what has turned out to be a momentous college baseball career, Brian Hernandez has experienced five years, four positions and three schools. But one constant has always been those six steps.

"I try to always take six steps from the on-deck circle to home plate," said the UC Irvine senior third baseman and closer, whose ability to shift about the same distance between third base and the mound this season has made him the Anteaters' most valuable player.

Hernandez leads the Anteaters (35-13, 13-5 in the Big West Conference) in batting (.357) and hits (71), heading into a three-game series at UC Riverside beginning Friday at 6 p.m. He has 28 runs batted in, and is also a stalwart defensively for UCI, ranked No. 16 in two national polls.

On the mound, the 6-foot-1, 205-pound right-hander, who had not pitched since high school, is 3-0 with a team-best 10 saves (which ranks No. 28 in NCAA Division I). He has a 3.00 earned-run average with 19 strikeouts in 24 innings. He has allowed 24 hits and walked 10.

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"He has been a phenomenal player all year," said UCI Coach Mike Gillespie, who has continually praised all facets of Hernandez's game, including his work ethic and leadership.

Hernandez has worked particularly hard to hone his defensive game, while reprising his pitching role, and altering his approach at the plate due to the NCAA's adoption of less-explosive bats, as well as a lingering wrist injury.

"I'm more of a line-drive hitter this year," said Hernandez, who leads all Big West players with 24 multiple-hit games. "Last year, I was trying to drive balls over outfielders' heads. This year, it's tougher to do that, so I'm trying to keep the ball in front of the outfielders and not worry too much about power."

Hernandez showed power last season, despite the worsening sprained wrist. He finished hitting .322 (.371 in conference games) with 44 RBIs, four home runs, 19 doubles, two triples, 76 hits and 22 multiple-hit games. He earned first-team all-conference recognition and helped lead the 'Eaters to their sixth straight trip to an NCAA regional.

This season, he has 10 doubles, one triple and is one of four UCI regulars with no home runs.

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