Strong arms need pecking order

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Saturday, February 8, 2014
Dave Jorn, pitching coach at the University of Arkansas, talks with the media Friday, Feb. 7, 2014 at the University of Arkansas baseball media day at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville.
Photo by Anthony Reyes
Dave Jorn, pitching coach at the University of Arkansas, talks with the media Friday, Feb. 7, 2014 at the University of Arkansas baseball media day at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE - If Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn and pitching coach Dave Jorn know who is starting the three games in next weekend’s season-opening series against Appalachian State, they aren’t saying yet.

The starters won’t be Ryne Stanek, Barrett Astin and Randall Fant, who combined to lead the Razorbacks to an NCAA-best 1.89 earned run average last year and were taken in the major-league draft along with hard-throwing closer Colby Suggs.

Arkansas’ entire staff must be reconfigured: Weekend and midweek starters, middle men and closers.

“There’s a lot more teaching, a lot more starting at the ground level,” Jorn said during Arkansas’ media day Friday. “You’re kind of starting over in that respect, so it’s exciting and then it’s a little bit nerve-wracking too because you’re not quite surewhat you’re going to get.”

Four returning pitchers - juniors Jalen Beeks (Prairie Grove) and Chris Oliver (Farmington) and sophomores Trey Killian (Mountain Home) and Colin Poche - are all expected to play key roles for a staff intent on forming its own identity.

“We’re just ready to go out there and play and let our play talk for itself,” said Beeks, a left-hander who led the staff with 29 appearances.

“I think we’re going to be fine no matter who we put on the mound,” said Oliver, a right-hander. “We got to watch Astin, Stanek and Fant throw every game. I think we’re as good or better than that staff. Or we can be.”

Van Horn said five pitchers are being considered for the three starts next weekend - Beeks and Oliver, who were in the bullpen last year, Killian and freshmen Zach Jackson and Alex Phillips.

“We’re going to experiment for a couple of weeks,” Van Horn said.

Poche might be the Razorbacks’ most likely SEC weekend starter at this point after going 3-0 with a 1.37 ERA in 5 starts last year, but he had soreness in his arm over the winter.

“My arm’s good to go, and now it’s just a matter of getting my endurance back up so I can extend out,” Poche said.

Killian worked his way into starting the SEC opener against Ole Miss last season but gave up a second-inning grand slam in a 7-1 loss and worked from the pen after that.

“Friday night, SEC, I wanted to show everybody that I could be out there,” Killian said of the ill-fated Ole Miss opener.

Killian said his maturity and competitiveness have grown along with his confidence.

“I think confidence, trusting your stuff, trusting your ability to get that guy out, is one of the main things,” he said. “I feel like getting moved to the bullpen last year and working on my stuff, I feel like I’ve got more confidence in my stuff. All my pitches.”

Phillips, a 6-4, 225-pound right-hander from Nacogdoches, Texas, has impressed players and coaches with his work in fall ball and preseason scrimmages.

“He doesn’t throw real hard, but he can really pitch and throws four pitches for strikes,” Van Horn said.

Jackson, a 6-3, 195-pounder from Berryhill, Okla., also gives Arkansas a big right arm.

“He could be special one day,” Van Horn said. “I don’t know if he’s thrown too many pitches below 93 [mph] since he’s been here, and that’s in the fall, after summer ball. … He’s got a ways to go, but he’s got really good stuff.”

Oliver said the first few weeks of the season will be important as the coaches get a feel for what the freshman pitchers can bring.

“They could end up playing a huge role this year,” he said. “That would be a huge, huge bonus for us, if we can just find one or two freshmen to step up in the bullpen.”

Sports, Pages 19 on 02/08/2014