Nate Allen is a columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, Allen is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and voter for the Heisman Trophy. He has authored three books about the Razorbacks.
Hogs try to dance around pitching concern
Arkansas pitcher Chris Oliver delivers a pitch during a SEC Tournament game against Ole Miss on Wednesday, May 21, 2014 at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium in Hoover, Ala.
FAYETTEVILLE -- On paper, it seems these baseball Razorbacks are more suited to tango than win a regional.
It only takes two to tango, but it takes three, often four, starting pitchers to win a four-team double-elimination NCAA regional.
Arkansas has two starters, Trey Killian and Chris Oliver, who on any given day can match up to any college pitcher in the country. They will take the mound Friday and Saturday in Charlottesville, Va., against Liberty University and then either Bucknell or top-seeded Virginia.
The Razorbacks had three starters when junior left-hander Jalen Beeks was healthy and going strong, but Beeks hasn't pitched since re-spraining his left elbow May 3 against Ole Miss.
Beeks threw a bullpen session during the Razorbacks' last practice Tuesday in Fayetteville that provided sufficient hope for Coach Dave Van Horn and pitching coach Dave Jorn to take Beeks to Charlottesville. They are keeping their fingers crossed for maybe one good relief outing but no aspirations at this point of starting him.
So the question begs: Can these Hogs, even with three solid to sensational relievers in Zach Jackson, Michael Gunn and Jacob Stone, piecemeal enough pitching to win this regional and advance to a Super Regional?
Alex Gosser, the freshman from North Little Rock who has caught them all over the past six games since senior catcher Jake Wise suffered what Van Horn called "a hairline type fracture in his hand," thinks so.
"We should," Gosser said.
Especially since it still starts with Killian and Oliver not only winning, but pitching deep into their games as they did to get Arkansas off to a 2-0 start in last week's SEC Tournament and in the final SEC regular-season series against Missouri and Texas A&M.
"It's really a big deal for us to win the first two games," Gosser said. "If you win the first two, then you have to get beat twice [not to win it]. If you win out you only have to play three games, but if you lose that first game you have to dig deep in your bullpen.
"So that's really where we will be tested, but I think we will be OK."
Regardless of Beeks' status, the Hogs' bullpen appeared to get deeper during the SEC Tournament. Freshman James Teague and third-year sophomore Landon Simpson emerged in effective long-relief outings against Ole Miss and LSU.
"Teague threw the ball pretty good down there in the tournament, and so did Simpson," Jorn said. "Those two kids looked like they were ready to go and have three pitches that they can throw for strikes and be able to keep us in some games."
With them in the pen, Van Horn and Jorn have discussed using Jackson as a starter Sunday.
Should any or all of the Teague-Simpson-Beeks trio successfully bridge Jackson to closers Gunn or Stone on Sunday, perhaps the Hogs can do more than just tango.
Sports on 05/28/2014