Hogs, Tide rely on strong arms

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Friday, March 21, 2014
Arkansas junior pitcher Jalen Beeks delivers a pitch against Eastern Illinois during the first inning Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas junior pitcher Jalen Beeks delivers a pitch against Eastern Illinois during the first inning Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE - Two offenses that appear to be on the upswing will take on two of the nation’s top pitchers when Arkansas hosts Alabama at 6:35 tonight in the opening game of a three game series at Baum Stadium.

Arkansas left-hander Jalen Beeks (3-2, 1.15 ERA) will face a Crimson Tide offense that has averaged 7.7 runs over its past 11 games and hit nine home runs in its past eight games.

“They’re a good team,” Beeks said. “We know they’re going to battle.”

Beeks has earned a decision in all five of his starts and has lost the past two despite allowing 3 earned runs and 10 hits over 13 2/3innings. Arkansas lost 2-1 in both of those games, to San Francisco and at Florida.

Beeks will be opposed by 6-3 junior right-hander Spencer Turnbull (2-1), whose 0.31 ERA ranks seventh among NCAA pitchers who have thrown 20 or more innings.

Alabama ranks fourth nationally with a team ERA of 1.77, while Arkansas is fifth at 1.82.

Arkansas (11-7, 1-2 SEC) scored 12 runs in its midweek sweep of Grambling State after a 9-3 victory Sunday at Florida. Before that, the Hogs had scored 14 runs in an eight game stretch during which they lost six one-run games while going 1-7.

“We need to be more consistent,” Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said. “We have to do a better job at the plate. We actually played good at Florida, good enough to win.”

The season’s first month has been a wild ride for Alabama (14-6, 2-1), which has won 10 of its past 11 games after losing three in a row - one at Southern Miss and two at Louisiana-Lafayette.

The Crimson Tide opened SEC play last weekend winning two of three against Kentucky, including a come-from-behind victory on Sunday when they used a two-out, two-run home run by Austen Smith to force extra innings and then got a home run from Mikey White in the 10th to win it.

Alabama hit four home runs in a midweek sweep of Alcorn State this week, winning 17-3 and 12-0.

“We felt all along this team had the chance to be pretty physical throughout the lineup, and I think it’s starting to show up now,” Alabama Coach Mitch Gaspard said after Wednesday’s victory, the Crimson Tide’s sixth shutout. “We’re starting to get guys now with multiple home runs, and that’s really what the lineup is. It’s not a bunting, hit-and-run type of lineup. It’s an athletic lineup, but it’s one that should be able to drive the ball.”

Arkansas, which has the second-lowest batting average in the SEC at .261, is hoping the offense it created in a three-game winning streak can continue.

“We are definitely looking forward to having Alabama come in and play an SEC game at home,” first baseman Eric Fisher said after his 4-for-4 performance in Wednesday’s 8-0 victory over Grambling.

The Razorbacks expect left fielder Joe Serrano to return to the lineup after a sprained ankle limited him to one plate appearance in the past five games. Shortstop Brett McAfee is still questionable with an ailing lower back.

Van Horn said Wednesday he wasn’t sure who would start Sunday’s series finale, following Beeks and right-hander Trey Killian (0-3, 3.06). Junior right-hander Chris Oliver (1-2,2.25) has started all five weekends, but he might be called upon in late relief early in the series. Sophomore left-hander Colin Poche (1-0, 0.77) had his best showing of the year Tuesday, allowing one hit without a walk in four innings of a 4-3victory over Grambling.

The Crimson Tide is expected to start junior left handers Kamplain (2-2, 3.67) and Jon Keller (4-0, 1.63) on Saturday and Sunday.

Alabama, which is batting .274, has two regulars hitting.300 or better in Austen Smith (.381, 2 HRs, 17 RBI) and Georgie Salem (.326, 1, 5).

The Razorbacks also have two 300 hitters in second baseman Brian Anderson (.333, 1, 15) and designated hitter KJ Wilkerson (.304, 1, 6).

Today’s game ALABAMA AT ARKANSAS WHEN 6:35 p.m.

WHERE Baum Stadium, Fayetteville RECORDS Alabama 14-6, 2-1 SEC; Arkansas 11-7, 1-2 TICKETS General admission $10. Reserved $12 SERIES Alabama leads 42-31 RADIO RSP statewide radio network. Not all games will be carried by affiliates. Check local listings.

INTERNET arkansasrazorbacks.com and ESPN3 PITCHING MATCHUP Alabama: Spencer Turnbull (RHP, 2-1, 0.31); Arkansas: Jalen Beeks (LHP, 3-2, 1.15 ERA) SHORT HOPS Arkansas won last year’s series in Tuscaloosa, with 3-1 and 6-0 victories, followed by a 5-0 loss. … The Razorbacks have been hit by pitches 38 times, two more than all of last season. … The Crimson Tide rank 10th in SEC hitting (.274), third in pitching (1.77 ERA) and ninth in fielding (.973). The Razorbacks are 13th in hitting (.261), fourth in pitching (1.82) and 10th in fielding (.969). … Alabama took 2 of 3 at home from Kentucky to open SEC play. 1 … Alabama’s Spencer Turnbull threw 7 /3 shutout innings last Friday, allowing four hits in a 3-0 victory over Kentucky. … The Crimson Tide turned a triple play in the sixth inning behind Turnbull on a line drive to shortstop with the bases loaded. THE WEEK AHEAD TODAY Alabama, 6:35 p.m.

SATURDAY Alabama, 2:05 p.m.

SUNDAY Alabama, 1:05 p.m.

MONDAY Off TUESDAY Miss. Valley (DH), 3:05 p.m.

WEDNESDAY Miss Valley*, 6:35 p.m.

THURSDAY Off *At Dickey-Stephens Park, North Little Rock

TODAY’S GAMES All times Central Auburn at Tennessee, 5 p.m.

South Carolina at Kentucky, 5:30 p.m.

Missouri at Ole Miss, 6:30 p.m.

Alabama at Arkansas, 6:30 p.m.

Florida at Texas A&M, 6:30 p.m.

Vanderbilt at Mississippi State, 6:30 p.m. Georgia at LSU, 7 p.m.

SATURDAY’S GAMES South Carolina at Kentucky, 1 p.m.

Missouri at Ole Miss, 1:30 p.m.

Alabama at Arkansas, 2 p.m.

Florida at Texas A&M, 2 p.m.

Auburn at Tennessee, 3 p.m.

Georgia at LSU, 6:30 p.m.

Vanderbilt at Mississippi State, 7:30 p.m.

SUNDAY’S GAMES Georgia at LSU, noon South Carolina at Kentucky, noon Alabama at Arkansas, 1 p.m.

Auburn at Tennessee, 1 p.m.

Florida at Texas A&M, 1 p.m.

Missouri at Ole Miss, 1:30 p.m.

Vanderbilt at Mississippi State, 1:30 p.m.

Sports, Pages 19 on 03/21/2014