Kentucky's baseball's J.T. Riddle starts season on a hot streak

mmaloney@herald-leader.comFebruary 25, 2013 

  • Tuesday

    Murray State at Kentucky

    When: 4 p.m.

    Radio: WWTF-AM 1580

There are no guarantees regarding weather when Kentucky plays its baseball home opener Tuesday against Murray State.

One guarantee is that J.T. Riddle will come in hot.

Eighth-ranked UK is off to a 5-1 start.

Including three games to end last season, Riddle has a nine-game hitting streak.

The second baseman out of Western Hills High School leads the Wildcats with a .556 average (15-for-27) with three doubles, one triple, one homer and seven RBI, stealing two bases.

A 6-foot-3, 185-pound junior, Riddle is in his third and what may be his last season at UK.

Major League Baseball figures to come calling in June. Riddle turned down the Boston Red Sox when he was a 35th round pick coming out of high school.

UK Coach Gary Henderson doesn't disagree that Riddle may be gone after this year.

"I think that's a very nice way to put it," Henderson said.

Riddle earned Mr. Baseball honors at Western Hills, where he set numerous school records and was a two-way player — 8-0 with a 1.26 ERA as a senior, in addition to a .514 batting average.

Despite the accolades, Riddle has been a humble, team player all along with the Cats.

"Great" attitude, Henderson said. "And I don't think that's an exaggeration. He's a great kid to work with. He's absolutely at the center of the club, there's no doubt about that. He's a very, very good teammate, ... extremely hard worker, A-plus attitude."

Riddle was named Southeastern Conference Co-Player of the Week the opening series of this season, hitting .786 (11-for-14), with seven runs, three doubles, one triple, one homer, six RBI, a walk and a hit by pitch.

"I just worked on the things that I knew that I had to work on before the season got started. Just some little things," Riddle said. "I knew my swing was good and everything. Little things, like just getting the foot down, something like that. I had a couple hits ... that fell in for me, so that's when you know things are going good for you."

Henderson says Riddle is athletic and has good instincts. He also continues to get stronger.

Added strength, Henderson says, translates into better body control, adds bat speed and allows a batter to wait longer before making the decision to swing.

"I just think (added strength) is the by-product of two years of hard work in the weight room. I think it's a lot of work with Ryan DeVriendt, our weight and strength coach," Henderson said. "I think it's a lot of work with Brian Green, our hitting coach. And I think it's just getting the experience that you get over being in the program and playing almost every day for two years. And then having two years of summer baseball."

After his freshman year, Riddle earned all-star honors and was rated the No. 3 prospect in the Great Lakes League.

Last summer, he stepped up to the Cape Cod League. He hit .232 over 38 games, with seven doubles, two triples and two homers.

"Cape Cod League, it was unreal. I mean, I saw a Friday-night guy, it seemed like, every time out," Riddle said. "You see those guys every day up there in Summer League and you face those guys, then when you get home and face some not-as-good pitching there, you're used to that. ... You just get used to a rhythm and stuff and learn so much from up there in that league, playing against the best players in the nation."

Yet, it's Riddle's defense that stands above his success at the plate. He led the Cape Cod in assists. He has the arm strength to play shortstop. And his range seems boundless.

A diving catch in short center field against LSU last season earned Riddle a spot on ESPN's top-10 highlights.

Riddle and shortstop Matt Reida combined last season to help UK set a school record for fielding percentage (.976).

Tuesday, it's time to show the home folks what he can do.

"It's going to be fun. We've been wanting to play at home for a while now," Riddle said.

■ UK spent 11 of 12 days on the road due to weather delays.

■ UK has hit .314 through six games, slugging .435 and reaching base at a .311 clip. UK has a 3.57 ERA.


Murray State at Kentucky

When: 4 p.m.

Radio: WWTF-AM 1580

Mark Maloney: (859) 231-3229. Twitter: @markmaloneyhl. Blog:

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