Matt Jones is the online sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and Northwest Arkansas Newspapers. He and his wife live in Fayetteville.
Daniel gets opening weekend nod
Arkansas pitcher Trent Daniel fires a pitch during a 2012 game against Missouri at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE Arkansas redshirt senior Trent Daniel will start a game during the No. 1 Razorbacks' season-opening series next weekend.
Daniel, a Bryant native, will replace Randall Fant in the Arkansas rotation. Fant, also a senior left-hander, will likely miss the first two weeks with a hamstring injury, Razorbacks coach Dave Van Horn said.
"(Trent's) last (preseason) outing he was really, really good; kind of reminded me of the guy we had a couple of years ago," Van Horn said. "He finished well for us last year, but up until the end of the season he kind of had a disappointing year for him. The year before he was basically our closer and he was drafted, didn’t sign, came back, didn’t have a great year, had a good finish, didn’t get drafted.
"You always worry about how the mindset is going to be there, the disappointment. But he’s come back and he’s done well. He pitched well in the fall. He’s throwing the ball 90 miles an hour. He’s throwing his change-up and his breaking ball for a strike. He’s shown us that he can start. It’s nice having a lefty.”
Daniel was drafted in the 23rd round of the 2011 MLB Draft, but failed to come to terms with the Detroit Tigers and returned to campus last year. As a redshirt junior, his earned run average jumped from 2.91 to 5.06 in 11 1/3 fewer innings.
He was pivotal for Arkansas during the postseason, however, appearing in five games with a 1.93 ERA. He has continued to pitch well during the off-season.
"Late in the fall and early in the spring, Trent has probably been our best pitcher," said junior pitcher Barrett Astin. "His fastball is running and his change-up is filthy and he has a snappy slider now. I think he's grown up in the last year. Last year he had a rough year, but I think he kind of took it as a challenge to himself and I think he'll be one of the top pitchers in the league this year."
Daniel will join Astin and Friday starter Ryne Stanek in the weekend rotation for Arkansas' series against Western Illinois at Baum Stadium.
The Razorbacks will likely be without several pitchers for the series. In addition to Fant, right-handed reliever Colby Suggs has been battling an injury to his rib cage, and freshmen left-handers Colin Poche and Adam Meyer are suspended because of arrests last month.
"We're fine," Van Horn said. "We have a lot of pitchers. This is just going to give a couple of guys an opportunity to throw a little more. Instead of one time the first four or five games, they're going to get to throw twice.
"I'm not concerned about it at all. If we were in league play, I'd be concerned, but better now than later. Hopefully these guys will get healthy and will come back even stronger."
Van Horn said senior left-hander Cade Lynch should be able to pitch during the opening weekend after undergoing surgery to relieve migraines last month. Lynch dropped out classes last fall because of the headaches, but received a NCAA waiver to play this season.
"He's just got to get in shape," Van Horn said. "With his situation he can't do a lot of conditioning, can't do a lot of running and has to condition in other ways. It's made it hard on him when he was pretty much out of commission for six months. Being the size he is he gained a little bit of weight. He's thrown some good pitches, not every pitch, but we're saying, 'Wow, that's him.' He's still hard to hit, hard to see and hard to pick up.
"It's like a miracle seeing him out there. I'm thinking no way and then there he is. If things keep progressing the way I've seen the first couple or three weeks, he'll be a big part of our bullpen."
Lynch, a Jonesboro native, had a 3-1 record and 2.11 ERA on the mound last season, but missed the postseason with migraines.