Overhauled staff excels
Arkansas pitcher Trey Killian delivers a pitch during a SEC Tournament game against Texas A&M on Tuesday, May 20, 2014 at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium in Hoover, Ala.
FAYETTEVILLE Pitching coach Dave Jorn wasn't sure what to expect from Arkansas' staff following an offseason of heavy losses to the Major League Baseball draft.
The overhauled rotation has proven more than capable of following in the footsteps of the top pitching staff in school history.
When the second-seeded Razorbacks (38-23) open the Charlottesville Regional on Friday against Liberty, they'll do so with a team ERA of 2.63. The pitching hasn't been as good as last season, when Arkansas led college baseball with a team ERA of 1.89, but it's been the backbone of a program that earned its 13th straight NCAA tournament berth.
Led by starters Trey Killian, Chris Oliver and Jalen Beeks, the staff quickly adapted to their new roles.
"I knew we had some kids that were competitive and some hard workers that had some talent," Jorn said. "They just needed some innings to try to figure out whether or not they were going to be good enough to be able to compete."
The Razorbacks have shown their worth time and again this season, excelling in the Southeastern Conference despite the loss of starters Ryne Stanek, Barrett Astin and Randall Fant. They were just three of 11 Arkansas players drafted.
Killian, Oliver and Beeks entered this season with a combined seven starts at Arkansas. Despite that lack of experience, the three have combined for 40 starts and a 2.25 ERA this season for the Razorbacks — who rank 15th overall nationally in staff ERA.
"With the draft last year, it didn't look too hot," Oliver said. "But the young guys came in, they stepped up ... I think that all goes back to coach Jorn and his philosophy and mentality with us."
Killian (4-8, 2.18 ERA) has led the way for the staff over the final few weeks following an elbow injury to Beeks, and the sophomore is expected to start Friday's regional opener against third-seeded Liberty (41-16).
Oliver (8-4, 2.45 ERA) is slated as the second-game starter on Saturday, whether it's against top-seed Virginia or fourth-seed Bucknell, but coach Dave Van Horn is equally confident in both of his top two available starters.
It's one of the many benefits of having a staff full of aces.
"I feel real good about them," Van Horn said. "They both have 10, 11 starts counting the tournament in SEC play, on weekends whether they were pitching Friday, Saturday, Sunday because it's moved around a little bit. They've seen everybody."
About the only question surrounding Arkansas' pitching this weekend is the availability of Beeks (5-4, 2.11 ERA), who has missed the last three weekends with a strain in his pitching elbow.
The left hander went through a bullpen session Tuesday and is hopeful of returning in a bullpen role this weekend. Regardless, the Razorbacks — who won three games at last weekend's SEC tournament — have proven they have no shortage of options on their pitching staff.
Now they just hope that's enough to carry them back to the College World Series for the first time since 2012.
"I feel like we can beat any team in the country with (Killian and Oliver) going," Arkansas second baseman Brian Anderson said. "We know that they're going to give us quality innings. It takes a lot of pressure off of us knowing we have them at the top."
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