It's only one weekend, but it doesn't look like the Arkansas baseball team will be ranked in the bottom end of the national statistics in hit by pitch in 2014.
Challenged by new assistant Tony Vitello "to wear" some pitches, Arkansas wore down Appalachian State with six hit batsmen in an 8-3 victory Sunday to sweep the three-game series at Baum Stadium.
The Razorbacks produced only three hits -- two of them in the seventh when they broke a 3-3 tie -- but they reached base 13 times by either hit by walks (seven) or hit by pitch (six) against seven Appalachian State pitchers. The Hogs had 12 hit batsmen on the weekend.
Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn called it a "strange game" because of the few hits but solid run production thanks to the free trips to first base. He doesn't remember a game like it and "there might not be another one for 10 years."
Van Horn pointed out that the Hogs got four hit batsman in the ninth spot in the batting order, with three different players getting plunked in that light-hitting position. Bobby Wernes was hit twice giving him four for the weekend.
Junior Joe Serrano said it's all about a new approach at the plate as pushed by Vitello, the new hitting coach.
"Coach Vitello said he can't force us to wear pitches, that we have to decide to do it," Serrano said. "We had talked about the pitches on the inside, the outside and the middle, how to approach them before today. But before today's game, he emphasized it with a note to us. If he hadn't emphasized it, we might not have won today."
Serrano said Vitello's note included a stat from last year, that "out of 306 Division I teams, we were 256. He said Vanderbilt and Mississippi State were at the top and we were second to last in the SEC."
Serrano drove in two with a sacrifice fly in the second and the tie-breaking double in the seventh. Brian Anderson followed with an RBI single to plate Serrano.
"Coach Vitello said instead of ducking, to lean in and wear that pitch," Serrano said. "It's being kept track on. If you get hit by pitch, there may be something waiting for you in your locker. We are keeping that to ourselves."
Freshman Andrew Benintendi said, "Sometimes the hits are not falling. Coaches are stressing to hold your ground. We got eight runs on three hits thanks to walks and getting hit."
Van Horn seemed pleased to win in such a way, after a runaway victory Friday night and a close shave on Saturday.
"We toughed it out today against an older team," Van Horn said. "We took a lot of pitches. We didn't move in the box.
"It's a philosophy. We don't want to get anyone hurt, but we want to stand in there to take a pitch (to the body) when we are behind in the count. We don't want anyone sticking out an elbow or a knee. They call you back for that. But you should hold your spot in the batter's box. You own that. You look at Wernes and Benintendi, they don't have a batting average, but they have been on base."
Van Horn was also pleased with the pitching. Freshman starter gave up two home runs and three runs in a shaky three innings, allowing two earned runs. But the next four pitchers didn't allow much. Freshman Zach Jackson, native of Berryhill, Okla., followed with three hitless innings. Jacob Stone got the win with a perfect seventh. Collin Poche and Jackson Lowery each pitched an inning to finish it off.
"Our pitching this weekend gets a good grade," Van Horn said of the rebuilt staff. "Poche will probably be a starter at some point and we expect (suspended sophomore) Trey Killian to figure into the starting rotation, too."
Looking ahead, Van Horn said Jalen Beeks and Chris Oliver will likely get starts to open the weekend against Eastern Illinois. Phillips might be out there again on Sunday.
"He made some mistakes today," Van Horn said of Phillips. "He gave up two home runs. One of them was on an 0-2 pitch. It was supposed to be wasted and he left it right down the middle. He's usually better than that. That wasn't him. I think when he goes to sleep tonight, he will have learned something."
Van Horn is pleased with Benintendi in the leadoff spot.
"He has no batting average, but he has been on base six or seven times and moved runners with bunts," Van Horn said. "He hit one hard today, right at someone."
It was a good start to the season.
"We had a really good weekend," Van Horn said. "You saw a little bit different style each day. We had to grind out some at bats today.
"You got to see us do a lot of things. We played 11 or 12 different players and a lot of pitchers. Over the course of the year, we'll need all of those guys.
"I thought Jake Wise did a great job this weekend (at catcher). We wanted him to catch today with so many young guys on the mound.
"I was real proud of the way we came out and played hard Sunday. That's a good team."
Serrano said it's the best opening day opposition in his three years at Arkansas.
"Last year on opening weekend, we dropped the Sunday game and so there was a huge emphasis today to win," Serrano said. "Since I've been here this is the toughest opening game weekend. That's an older team of grinders. We finished today."
Hogs Grind Past Appalachian State
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