Matt Jones is the online sports director for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A double graduate of the University of Arkansas, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, and voter for the Heisman Trophy.
Noland in line to start Hogs' first weekend series
Arkansas pitcher Connor Noland warms up Friday, Jan. 25, 2019, during practice at Baum Stadium in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE It took Connor Noland until the eighth week of the season to start as Arkansas' quarterback last fall, but the two-sport athlete won't have to wait as long to start for the Razorbacks' baseball team.
Noland, a freshman right-handed pitcher from Greenwood, will start one of this weekend's games against Eastern Illinois, Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said Monday. Van Horn said he has not determined whether Noland will start Saturday or Sunday.
Noland has been dominant in three outings this preseason. On Saturday he pitched four innings and allowed just one hit, a two-out double by center fielder Dominic Fletcher in the fourth inning after Noland had retired the first 11 batters.
"He's thrown the ball extremely well," Van Horn said during a speech to the Swatter's Club at Hilton Garden Inn in Fayetteville. "We're excited about Connor. He's had three outings against our hitters and he's pitched like he's a little older than that. I think you'll see him on the mound this weekend pretty early."
Afterward, Van Horn clarified that Noland would start. Redshirt junior right-hander Isaiah Campbell will start the Razorbacks' season opener Friday, and the third starter could be right-handers Kole Ramage, Jacob Kostyshock or Cody Scroggins, or left-hander Patrick Wicklander. The starters will have a pitch count of around 70 against Eastern Illinois.
"They've all been throwing well," Van Horn said. "What you see this weekend, it could be different (next week at) USC.
"I just want to make sure we have a deep, strong bullpen. We have the guys, but it's just a matter of if you want to take one of those guys out and start them."
Noland has looked sharp since his first preseason outing on Jan. 26 when he allowed two hits in three innings while facing live hitters for the first time as a collegiate pitcher.
"The only thing I've been surprised about...is his command," Van Horn said. "I knew his stuff was going to be good, but it's all the little things, like holding runners - he picked a runner off first the other day. Fielding his position, he's been outstanding so far and he's really quick to the plate.
"He commands the baseball and a lot of times young guys don't do that enough."
Noland's slider has been particular impressive - an 84-85 mph offering that has been a go-to pitch with two strikes. He had two swing-and-miss strikeouts at the pitch Saturday.
"He's actually got two different kinds of breaking balls and they both have depth," Van Horn said. "He's got one that he grips a little different and has more action down, and the other slider is down and over. He throws it over the plate and that's a good thing. He spots his fastball up pretty good. I'm excited he's here and I think he has a bright future."
Van Horn said he has been impressed with how well Noland has transitioned from throwing a football to a baseball. Pitching coach Matt Hobbs said on the team's media day, though, that quarterbacks sometimes are able to transition to baseball quickly because of similarities in throwing motions.
"A football is pretty heavy," Noland said on Jan. 26, "so going from that weight to less weight of a baseball, it really doesn't affect it that much."
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