Razorbacks ‘hottest hitter’ sidelined with broken bone

Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn encourages players during a practice Monday, Oct. 17, 2016, at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville.

When the Arkansas baseball team begins its 2017 season Friday against Miami (Ohio), the Razorbacks will be without their projected starting first baseman.

Junior Jared Gates, a junior-college transfer from Iowa Western Community College, has broken a hamate bone in his right hand, Arkansas Coach Dave Van Horn said.

Gates is expected to miss at least five weeks, Van Horn said. He was injured during an at-bat in the Razorbacks' final preseason scrimmage Sunday in Fayetteville. Van Horn said Gates underwent an MRI on Sunday and expected to have more information Monday night.

"He was my hottest hitter this spring," Van Horn said Monday at the Downtown Tip-Off Club at the Wyndham Riverfront Hotel in North Little Rock. "Better now than later. We'll get it fixed and hopefully he'll be ready to go close to conference play. He's definitely not going to play for a while."

Chad Spanberger, a junior, has worked at third base during the Hogs' preseason practices, will likely start at first base Friday.

Van Horn said sophomore right-hander Blaine Knight will be the Razorbacks' starting pitcher Friday against Miami (Ohio) and junior right-hander Trevor Stephan will start Saturday.

Sophomore right-hander Isaiah Campbell may miss his start Sunday because of soreness in the back of his throwing arm, Van Horn said. If Campbell doesn't start Sunday, Van Horn said redshirt freshman Kevin Kopps, a right-hander, senior right-hander Josh Alberius or freshman left-hander Evan Lee could start in his place.

Arkansas returns to North Little Rock in April for an April 19 game against Memphis at Dickey-Stephens Park, home of Arkansas Travelers, the Class AA minor-league affiliate Seattle Mariners.

When asked Monday if the game could turn into a bigger series, Van Horn said he doesn't want a weekend series at Dickey-Stephens, but would be open to a two-game midweek series at the stadium.

"We couldn't ever leave Baum Stadium on a weekend," Van Horn said. "If it worked out, we could play two [in North Little Rock]. It would have to be the right scenario."

The Razorbacks were 26-29 in 2016 and failed to qualify for the SEC Tournament for the first time since 2001.

Several times, Van Horn told the crowd he was done talking about the 2016 season, but continued to refer to moments from the season during which the Razorbacks missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time in his tenure at the school, which began in 2003.

One instance occurred on May 7 at LSU, Arkansas led 9-4 in the bottom of the seventh inning when a baby opossum ran on the field at Alex Box Stadium. The Tigers came back to win the game 10-9 in 10 innings.

"Anytime I see an opossum, I try to hit it with my car," Van Horn said. "I've had enough possum."

Van Horn said he hasn't had to remind his team of what happened last spring.

"I don't have to give them motivational speeches," Van Horn said. "They're motivated."

Sports on 02/14/2017