Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll.
Starter is OK with any role
Arkansas pitcher Jalen Beeks fires a pitch during a May 25, 2013 game against LSU in the 2013 SEC baseball tournament in Hoover, Ala.
FAYETTEVILLE - Jalen Beeks pitched exclusively out of Arkansas’ highly regarded bullpen last season, but when the junior takes the ball for today’s season opening start it won’t be out of the blue.
“I started in the summer in the Cape [Cod League],” said Beeks, a team captain and Prairie Grove graduate.
“I think I had eight starts, so I feel a lot more comfortable starting right now than relieving because that’s what I’ve been doing since last spring.”
Beeks and junior right-hander Chris Oliver, a longtime rival of Beeks’ at Shiloh Christian School, are fronting the Arkansas starting rotation this weekend, although Coach Dave Van Horn and pitching coach Dave Jorn have said they might like one or both to work the back end of games.
Beeks said he can’t approach today’s start as if it were an audition.
“You have to plan like you’re going to start for the rest of the year, but anything can happen,” he said.
“Wherever they need me is where I’ll go.”
Coach Dave Van Horn said the starting pitchers would be targeted for a maximum of 80 to 85 pitches this weekend, depending on how hard their innings are.
“There’s a hard 85 and there’s an easy 85,” Van Horn said. “Are they quick innings or did he struggle the last two? Did he throw a lot of pitches? We’ll get them out of there and 65 might be the number.”
Pitching coach Dave Jorn said building confidence early is a goal.
“If things are going pretty good, early on, you might want to get them out when they’ve had some success instead of trying to stretch them too far where they’re not really ready,” he said. “A lot of it has to do with focus and staying locked in with their concentration and being able to go out there and repeat pitching for a prolonged period of time.”
Freshman Andrew Benintendi, who had surgery on a fractured hamate bone in his right hand, is projected to bat leadoff and play center field.
The hamate bone is a small bone at the base of the ring finger near the wrist.
“It’s really coming along well,” Benintendi said, showing the scar where the incision was made on his palm. “I wear a pad in my glove and I have no pain at all right now hitting.”
One of the prized signees in Arkansas’ signing class, Benintendi had the surgery in early December and went without swinging a bat for about a month.
“Obviously at first it was a little weak, but after about a week of swinging it came back pretty quickly,” he said.
Poche can pitch
Sophomore left-hander Colin Poche, a potential weekend starter who is rebounding from soreness in his throwing arm, is ready to pitch this weekend, but his role will be limited.
Poche said he is more suited to be a starter, but he understands he needs to get a few innings out of the bullpen to build up his endurance before joining the rotation.
“If I’m coming out of the bullpen and getting guys out and that’s what we need, then that’s what I’ll do,” he said.
Dave Van Horn said he thought Poche would throw 20-plus pitches on the weekend.
Sports, Pages 26 on 02/14/2014