Desert Destination

Warm weather appeals to Dave Van Horn as Arkansas heads to the Arizona desert for four games this week. The Hogs play Arizona State on Thursday.

Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn sounded like a typical frustrated midwestern coach Tuesday morning when he talked about the weather the Razorbacks have faced of late.

The No. 1-ranked Hogs have not missed any games -- although there was a doubleheader to avoid one day of bad weather -- but Van Horn said there haven't been many suitable for outdoor workouts over the last two weeks.



That will partly get corrected when the Hogs jet to the Arizona desert on Wednesday morning for at least one workout before four games at Surprise, Ariz., beginning Thursday. The Hogs will face Arizona State at around 4 p.m. Thursday, then begin three games in the Coca-Cola Classic on Friday. They'll play Gonzaga, Arizona State and Pacific on the weekend, all at a major league practice facility in Surprise.

The games Thursday and Saturday against Arizona State will be in the main stadium at the facility. The games with Gonzaga and Pacific will be at nearby practice fields. They will all be day games. The first three will start around 4 p.m., but the finale with Pacific is slated for 10 a.m.

"The weather is supposed to be good," Van Horn said. "It may be in the 70s and possibly into the lower 80s for some of the games. I'm just glad we are getting some good weather and we get to use a lot of pitching. A lot of our practice days here the last two weeks have been really bad. Tomorrow is the first day we'll be outside in a couple of weeks."

Van Horn is sticking with plans to start pitchers Ryne Stanek and Barrett Astin for the first two games of the series. Freshman Trey Killian is slated for Saturday. Randall Fant is the likely starter Sunday after missing the first two weeks of the season with a sore hamstring.

Fant, who was the star of the fall, will have a pitch count, Van Horn said. He'll throw 40 to 45 pitches or around three innings.

The Hogs also hope that infielder Dominic Ficociello, expected to bat in the heart of the lineup, will get his first action. He's been bothered by a muscle injury in the rib area.

"He's been taking ground balls and he's been swinging fine righthanded," Van Horn said. "If all goes well, he'll be in the lineup against lefthanders. We think we might see three lefthanded (starters) on the weekend."

Ficociello, a switch hitter, played first base the last two seasons, but he's slated to move to second base this year. That plan is still in place.

"We are going to let him swing lefthanded today," he said. "He could swing righthanded against righthanders, but he told me that the breaking ball (from a righthander) bothers him."

Ficociello said he's still trying to shake the injury sustained in January. He thought he was well earlier, then tweaked it again in batting practice just before the season opener.

"I'm about 75 percent right now," Ficociello said after practice Tuesday. "But I think I can play."

The trip to Arizona is big motivation for the Fullerton, Calif., product to get back into the lineup. He took batting practice righthanded against a righthanded pitcher on Tuesday. He said he wants to play in front of family and friends.

"My parents, grand parents, my aunt and a lot of friends are going to be there," he said. "There are some that are going to be there that haven't seen me (play in college) except on TV. There might be 20 friends and family there. It should be fun."

Outfielder Joe Serrano is an Arizona native, but he grew up in Tuscon. He was more of a fan of the other university in the state, not the Sun Devils. He has a built-in appreciation for the rivalry between Arkansas and ASU in baseball.

"I mean, yeah, you kind of grow up having that hatred kind of groomed inside you," Serrano said. "But they're always a tough ball club to beat in all their sports. ... But yeah, it would be nice to take it to them."

Plus, it's just going to be fun to head to the sun shine of the desert and find out what life on the road is like with a new team.

"It's great to play in front of all our fan here, but going on the road, I feel like we can compete at the highest level," Serrano said. "We did last year winning at the Rice Regional, and we did it again, winning the Super Regional at Baylor, and we also showed we can compete in Omaha at probably the toughest-hitting ballpark in the United States."

Serrano is excited to get Ficociello back in the lineup, but has cautioned his teammate to stay patient. Serrano tried to come back early from a hamstring injury last year and went down again.

Serrano recalled a conversation with Ficociello after batting practice a few days back.

"He told us,'I feel like I should be playing right now. I'm anxious, I want to be in the lineup,' I said, just wait, you don't want to push things too far," Serrano said. "But as soon as he gets in there, we're going to be happy about it."

Ficociello has been in the heart of the order the last two seasons.

"He's going to add another bat," Serrano said. "Right now we're swinging it pretty well, doing really, really consistent games, except with a few little bumps in the road. But I just feel like he's just another bad we're going to add to the lineup ... It's kind of crazy thinking what more can we add to this lineup? But he's another guy we can.

"I think he night be a little rusty coming in, but I feel like a lot of that rust will be taken off in the first game. He's going to be a great bat for us."

Van Horn is hopeful that Stanek, the high profile junior hurler, settles in after two shaky starts. The likely first-round draft pick has thrown 25 pitches in the first inning of his first two outings. It reminds the coaches of Stanek's early outings in his first two seasons with the Hogs.

"It's the same as last year," Van Horn said. "He has great command in bullpen, spots it up. Then he starts slow. We hope this is the week it kicks in. Those first two games, they aren't knocking him around, but there have been a lot of full counts."

Stanek, who was superb in postseason last year, touched 99 on the radar gun last weekend. Velocity has not been the problem. It's been location of the fast ball. Perhaps it was just cold weather and lack of feel for the baseball.

"He's healthy," Van Horn said. "Obviously, we hope that he's ready for SEC play. He's going to get two more starts. We hope that he's fine after that and he doesn't put any pressure on the coaches to make a decision (on changing the Friday night rotation in SEC play)."

Hawgs Daily Top Stories

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\r\nThat will partly get corrected when the Hogs jet to the Arizona desert on Wednesday morning for at least one workout before four games at Surprise, Ariz., beginning Thursday. The Hogs will face Arizona State at around 4 p.m. Thursday, then begin three games in the Coca-Cola Classic on Friday. They'll play Gonzaga, Arizona State and Pacific on the weekend, all at a major league practice facility in Surprise.\r\n

\r\nThe games Thursday and Saturday against Arizona State will be in the main stadium at the facility. The games with Gonzaga and Pacific will be at nearby practice fields. They will all be day games. The first three will start around 4 p.m., but the finale with Pacific is slated for 10 a.m.\r\n

\r\n\"The weather is supposed to be good,\" Van Horn said. \"It may be in the 70s and possibly into the lower 80s for some of the games. I'm just glad we are getting some good weather and we get to use a lot of pitching. A lot of our practice days here the last two weeks have been really bad. Tomorrow is the first day we'll be outside in a couple of weeks.\"\r\n

\r\nVan Horn is sticking with plans to start pitchers Ryne Stanek and Barrett Astin for the first two games of the series. Freshman Trey Killian is slated for Saturday. Randall Fant is the likely starter Sunday after missing the first two weeks of the season with a sore hamstring.\r\n

\r\nFant, who was the star of the fall, will have a pitch count, Van Horn said. He'll throw 40 to 45 pitches or around three innings.\r\n

\r\nThe Hogs also hope that infielder Dominic Ficociello, expected to bat in the heart of the lineup, will get his first action. He's been bothered by a muscle injury in the rib area.\r\n

\r\n\"He's been taking ground balls and he's been swinging fine righthanded,\" Van Horn said. \"If all goes well, he'll be in the lineup against lefthanders. We think we might see three lefthanded (starters) on the weekend.\"\r\n

\r\nFicociello, a switch hitter, played first base the last two seasons, but he's slated to move to second base this year. That plan is still in place.\r\n

\r\n\"We are going to let him swing lefthanded today,\" he said. \"He could swing righthanded against righthanders, but he told me that the breaking ball (from a righthander) bothers him.\"\r\n

\r\nFicociello said he's still trying to shake the injury sustained in January. He thought he was well earlier, then tweaked it again in batting practice just before the season opener.\r\n

\r\n\"I'm about 75 percent right now,\" Ficociello said after practice Tuesday. \"But I think I can play.\"\r\n

\r\nThe trip to Arizona is big motivation for the Fullerton, Calif., product to get back into the lineup. He took batting practice righthanded against a righthanded pitcher on Tuesday. He said he wants to play in front of family and friends.\r\n

\r\n\"My parents, grand parents, my aunt and a lot of friends are going to be there,\" he said. \"There are some that are going to be there that haven't seen me (play in college) except on TV. There might be 20 friends and family there. It should be fun.\"\r\n

\r\nOutfielder Joe Serrano is an Arizona native, but he grew up in Tuscon. He was more of a fan of the other university in the state, not the Sun Devils. He has a built-in appreciation for the rivalry between Arkansas and ASU in baseball.\r\n

\r\n\"I mean, yeah, you kind of grow up having that hatred kind of groomed inside you,\" Serrano said. \"But they're always a tough ball club to beat in all their sports. ... But yeah, it would be nice to take it to them.\"\r\n

\r\nPlus, it's just going to be fun to head to the sun shine of the desert and find out what life on the road is like with a new team.\r\n

\r\n\"It's great to play in front of all our fan here, but going on the road, I feel like we can compete at the highest level,\" Serrano said. \"We did last year winning at the Rice Regional, and we did it again, winning the Super Regional at Baylor, and we also showed we can compete in Omaha at probably the toughest-hitting ballpark in the United States.\"\r\n

\r\nSerrano is excited to get Ficociello back in the lineup, but has cautioned his teammate to stay patient. Serrano tried to come back early from a hamstring injury last year and went down again.\r\n

\r\nSerrano recalled a conversation with Ficociello after batting practice a few days back.\r\n

\r\n\"He told us,'I feel like I should be playing right now. I'm anxious, I want to be in the lineup,' I said, just wait, you don't want to push things too far,\" Serrano said. \"But as soon as he gets in there, we're going to be happy about it.\" \r\n

\r\nFicociello has been in the heart of the order the last two seasons.\r\n

\r\n\"He's going to add another bat,\" Serrano said. \"Right now we're swinging it pretty well, doing really, really consistent games, except with a few little bumps in the road. But I just feel like he's just another bad we're going to add to the lineup ... It's kind of crazy thinking what more can we add to this lineup? But he's another guy we can.\r\n

\r\n\"I think he night be a little rusty coming in, but I feel like a lot of that rust will be taken off in the first game. He's going to be a great bat for us.\"\r\n

\r\nVan Horn is hopeful that Stanek, the high profile junior hurler, settles in after two shaky starts. The likely first-round draft pick has thrown 25 pitches in the first inning of his first two outings. It reminds the coaches of Stanek's early outings in his first two seasons with the Hogs.\r\n

\r\n\"It's the same as last year,\" Van Horn said. \"He has great command in bullpen, spots it up. Then he starts slow. We hope this is the week it kicks in. Those first two games, they aren't knocking him around, but there have been a lot of full counts.\"\r\n

\r\nStanek, who was superb in postseason last year, touched 99 on the radar gun last weekend. Velocity has not been the problem. It's been location of the fast ball. Perhaps it was just cold weather and lack of feel for the baseball.\r\n

\r\n\"He's healthy,\" Van Horn said. \"Obviously, we hope that he's ready for SEC play. He's going to get two more starts. 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