State of the Hogs: Inside Pitch

Arkansas isn't changing its approach to pitching. The Hogs will still pitch inside.

Those hot bats are gone. College pitchers are going to feel more comfortable coming inside to batters with the knowledge that they can't get around. The new heavier barrels aren't going to whip around and send those inside pitches over the fence.

But don't think that means Arkansas pitchers will be going inside more often when the baseball season begins at 3:05 p.m. Friday against Delaware State. No one in the college game pitched inside more consistently than the Razorbacks. That's the bread-and-butter for UA pitching coach Dave Jorn.

"We do consistently pitch inside, if our guys have command," Jorn said. "That's the key to it. You can call it inside, but if he's all over the place with it and he misses, then you haven't done any good by calling it in there."

That's what Jorn is waiting to see as a young pitching staff goes from the bullpen to live game action this weekend. He thinks he's got a staff with command, but it is not game tested.

"I like this group," Jorn said. "I like the talent, the work ethic and the attitude. They've done well in the bullpen. I think we are going to do fine. But you just have to see who can do it when you go out there on the mound in a game with a hitter in the box. Sometimes it changes. We have to find out."

The Hogs have to find out if they can paint those inside spots. That is even more important with the NCAA modifications to the bats. UA hitting coach Todd Butler said the bats are the same weight, but more of the weight has been put in the barrel of the bats, slowing them down through the hitting zone. There's also a reduction in the trampoline effect in the way the barrel is built.

"You will see everyone pitching inside more in our league and throughout college baseball," Butler said. "We've always done it, but these changes in the bats will push more inside."

Jorn is comfortable that the Hogs can continue to go inside with their staff.

"We've got some guys who I think have pretty good command," Jorn said. "If you have that, you can go inside. What happens in the college game is that hitters are used to seeing it away, away, away and then the pitcher extends the plate a little with a slider away. They are crowding and leaning over the plate trying to hit that pitch. When they do that, you have to come inside.

"Some guys think they have to throw it a little harder when they come inside. You don't. You just can't make a mistake with it and not quite get it in there and it's left over the middle third of the plate. It has to be inside. That's command." It's not as easy as it sounds.

"There are some pitchers that aren't comfortable doing that," Jorn said. "Maybe they are a little bit wild and they hit a few guys. No one wants to hit them. I don't like calling it inside and thinking the guy is about to get hit because my guy doesn't have command. So maybe you can't go inside if the pitcher doesn't command that pitch. So I'll go away from that."

Another key is the adjustments the hitters make in the SEC. That's where veteran catcher James McCann enters the picture.

"James is so good," Jorn said. "He's with the hitter. He sees his eyes, where he's digging in. We can't see that from the dugout. That's why we let him call so many pitches. But we do suggest at times."

And the suggestion gets rebuffed.

"He'll look at us, then at the hitter's feet and shake us off," Jorn said. "We know what's happening. The hitter has backed off the plate just enough. He's looking for that inside pitch. That's when we let James call the next one.

"But it makes it tough on James when the young pitcher on the mound can't hit his spots. James can call pitches with the best of them, if his guy out on the mound can command his pitches. It gets easy then. But when a young pitcher is all over the place, it doesn't matter what James calls. That's when we have to step in and come up with something different."

Or, just go get the pitcher. Head coach Dave Van Horn said the Hogs may not have the luxury of staying with a young arm for an extended outing this spring. With runs tougher to come by with the heavier, slower bats, you don't want the opposition to scoot away because of walks or a few pitching mistakes.

"We may have to go get ‘em quick," Van Horn said. "You don't want to break the confidence of a young pitcher. We aren't going to leave them out there long if they struggle."

There's another factor. There are a lot of left-right options in the bullpen this year. "We may go for matchups and just go one or two batters," Jorn said. "We've got that ability."

Van Horn said, "You are going to see us manage a little more this season in that regard. We've got quite a few lefthanders. We've got some freshmen that we may use as starters, but we aren't going to ask them to go real deep. We think we have the depth that we only have to ask them to get us five innings."

And then the Hogs will get to their closers. They may have several in that role, including D J Baxendale. Yes, Baxendale is set to start the season opener Friday. But he might not stay there.

"You probably get tired of hearing me say it, but the fireworks doesn't start until the eighth and ninth inning -- maybe the seventh," Van Horn said. "DJ can start, but what we may do is save him as a closer to get us a win on Friday, then come back with him to start Sunday. It's the role we used with Jay Sawatski. I may want to get DJ out there twice a weekend. He might end up with 15 saves or maybe he gets 12 starts."

True freshmen Ryne Stanek and Barrett Astin are also candidates to close. However, the best freshman might be 6-3, 245-pound Brandon Moore. The Van Buren righthander throws a hard-sinking fast ball that produces ground balls.

"We haven't hit him," said Todd Butler, hitting coach. "I like him a lot. He's gotten us out in the fall and the spring. He is a strike-throwing machine."

The Hogs have won with a freshman ace on Friday night before, most notably with Nick Schmidt in 2005.

"Moore is better than Schmidt was then," Butler said. "He's been really good so far."

Now it's time to see who can pitch inside with command.

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