State of the Hogs: New Hitters

Arkansas has been advertised as top heavy with great pitching. Can any of them help with the bats?

Arkansas isn't the lowest hitting team in the SEC. In fact, at around .280 for the last month, the Razorbacks are in the top half of the league as far as batting average.

Still, it's no secret that the Hogs are stronger on the mound than in the plate. If they are to do well against Baylor in the NCAA Super Regional beginning Saturday, it will probably be because of pitchers DJ Baxendale, Ryne Stanek, Barrett Astin, Colby Suggs, Nolan Sanburn, Brandon Moore and Randall Fant.

But if you didn't know the roster well, you might have seen some of those pitchers handle a bat pretty well in Tuesday's workout at Baum Stadium. Head coach Dave Van Horn let the pitchers have a little fun to end the practice.

"We've done that a couple of times," Stanek said. "It's a blast. Us pitchers think we can hit, whether we can or we can't."

The hitters are convinced Stanek thinks he can hit. They wonder if Suggs can't hit a lot based on what they've seen in a couple of workouts.

First, the couple of times the hitters have been included happened with a batting practice pitcher on the mound, not against live pitching. It was all for fun and there wasn't anything nasty that was being tossed at them. Certainly, Stanek wasn't hittting against Stanek-like stuff.

"It's still good to get them up there and let them have their swings," said Matt Reynolds, the All-SEC third baseman. "Some of them were two-way players in high school and have done alright with a bat in their hands before. I think some of them can hit."

Like who?

"I think Suggs has hit two home runs when we've done this," Reynolds said. "Baxendale can hit. I know he was a shortstop when he was in high school. He can handle a bat. As for Stanek, he thinks he can hit.

"Sanburn is pretty funny. He takes a mean cut. He's trying to hit it a long way."

And he hasn't yet.

Stanek took exception to the Reynolds remarks.

"I played third base and first base in high school," he said. "I can hit. Well, I like to think I can still do something with the bat. I'm still trying to show them."

The Hogs got after it pretty good before mixing in the pitchers with the rest of the lineup. Van Horn divided the roster into three units and rotated them in the field in a fun, but weird game. There was some taunting, all good natured.

"I played in the field when I was in high school, but only in the infield," Baxendale said after three innings of work in left field.

He made no errors, but it wasn't always pretty.

"I have great respect for the guys who play left field in our park," Baxendale said. "The sun is brutal out there. I had several fly balls that I'm still not sure how I caught them. I didn't see them until the end.

"I think it's good that we played some in the field to get a perspective for how good our guys play behind us. But it was comical at times. Some of the guys were going for the fences. Me, I was just trying to put it in play, just make contact. It was fun, though.

"But I'm telling you, Suggs isn't bad. He can turn on it."

The Hogs got to try some fun positions. They may have found another shortstop. Junior Matt Vinson gobbled up the grounders. It looked like he had played there before Tuesday.

"Yes sir, that's where I played in high school," Vinson said. "But I think if you checked around our team, you'd find a lot of ex-shortstops. Most all of the players in college baseball were the best players on their high school teams. So they were shortstops.

"That was fun today. I got to go back in time and play an old position."

Vinson played left field early this season and did come up with the season's highlight play, snaring a fly ball that was going to land deep in the bullpen. He's moved over to center field over the last three weeks after Jacob Morris sustained a broken bone in his hand.

Van Horn said Vinson's play at the Houston Regional was one of the reasons the Hogs are still alive. Vinson, who has returned to switch hitting since returning as a regular, has made some plays with his bat and legs at the plate, too.

"He's stepped in and really helped us," Van Horn said. "He wasn't playing much, just watching. And when Morris went down, he was ready. He kept a good attitude and was ready to help the team when his name was called.

"Vinson had a big part in our winning down at Rice. He made a play the last game against Sam Houston State that was really good. He ran down one in the alley that was a very good play."

Vinson didn't think it compared to the over-the-wall catch in left earlier in the season. He knows that's going to be his signature play as a Razorback.

"The one against Sam Houston, it's just a play you have to make," he said. "It's one of those that if you don't make it, you may catch some grief.

"The over-the-fence catch, now that was something. I am going to hear about that one for a long time. It's what I'll be remembered for in my career here. I know that."

Well, there is still more baseball left.

"That's the fun part, we are still playing," Vinson said. "I want to be a part of an Omaha team. That would be a highlight. And to be on the field helping me team get there, that's special. I'm pretty excited. Our team is excited.

"I'm having a blast. I love playing center field. I think it's the easiest of the outfield positions because you see the ball better. In left and right, the ball dips and dives and you don't pick it up as quickly. I like center.."

That's why Van Horn tried to take the edge off of an intense practice with an hour of game simulation with a BP pitcher. I wanted to do something the squad liked.

"We've done that before," Vinson said. "We all like it. We'd gotten after it pretty good in the early part of the practice. Then when coach said that's what we were going to do, we all loved it.

"I think this team is coming together. We worked hard last week before going to the regional. And we played well down there. I think we are much closer right now. It's down to the part of the season that you love and we are having fun."

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