Matt Jones is the online sports director for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A two-time graduate of the University of Arkansas, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, and voter for the Biletnikoff Award.
Hot Hogs await league's best pitcher
Arkansas' Clark Eagan, left, and Tyler Spoon high-five after scoring runs off of a bunt by Jake Wise during the game against UNLV in Baum Stadium in Fayetteville on Wednesday April 9, 2014. Arkansas won 9-2.
FAYETTEVILLE For a team that has struggled to consistently score runs the last two seasons, you could call Arkansas' recent stretch a hot streak.
The Razorbacks have scored 27 runs over their last four games against South and UNLV at Baum Stadium. Arkansas is 3-1 during that time against pitching staffs that entered this week ranked second and ninth in the NCAA in team earned run average.
"To me, it's getting better," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. "It's starting to warm up and that's usually what happens. Guys start getting a little bit of confidence and the wind starts blowing out at most parks, and things happen. It's be a great time to keep scoring runs, especially with the teams we've got coming up. We're going to have to put some runs up."
The recent swing in offensive production can be attributed to a lineup change made last Friday. Van Horn placed Tyler Spoon in the leadoff slot after the team lost 2-1 to South Carolina in the first game of a doubleheader. It was the Razorbacks' fifth 2-1 loss this season and seventh loss by one run.
Since that time Arkansas has recorded 34 hits and 22 RBIs.
"I think he put me there because he wants me to be me," Spoon said.
"With Joe (Serrano) and (Brian) Anderson hitting like they are right now, I mainly want to get on base and get it to the next guy. I want to let Serrano and Anderson do their thing. Our pitchers always do great, so I feel if we can score a few runs our pitching staff is going to do great."
Arkansas' only loss since shuffling the order was 10-7 to UNLV. The 10 runs were the second-most given up this season by the Razorbacks, who entered the week with the 11th-best ERA in college baseball.
The team will get a chance to test its offense tonight at LSU. Junior right-hander Aaron Nola is considered one of the best pitchers in the country and enters the game with a 6-1 record 0.47 ERA this season.
Nola has faced Arkansas three times in his career, striking out 27 batters and allowing just five runs in 22 1/3 innings.
"He's a great pitcher," Spoon said. "He can put it where he wants and commands his fastball, commands his change-up and commands his slider. That's a guy you don't like to face, but at the same time is fun to face because he's a great pitcher and is going to be successful at the next level. It's a challenge and we love challenges.
"I think up and down the order we're swinging it pretty well. It's good momentum to take there because it's never easy playing LSU at Alex Box Stadium."