State of the Hogs: Beeks Time

Jalen Beeks may be a long way from home Friday, but he's pitching in front of a large family group when the Hogs play against San Francisco at Cal.

It's exciting every time out for Jalen Beeks, but none any more so than Friday's start in the Cal Classic against San Francisco. He'll be pitching in front of a large group of family.

That may surprise since Beeks grew up in Prairie Grove, just 10 minutes from the Arkansas campus. But that's what he said as he prepared to get on a plane for the West coast.

"I have a lot of family in the San Francisco area, many only 45 minutes away," Beeks said. "I think I'm going to need a lot of tickets from teammates, maybe 10 to 15. My dad's flying out. It's a big trip for him. There are a lot of uncles in the Bay area, some of them we haven't seen in 10 years.

"We are going through the budget pretty good in these first two road trips. My dad is going to California, then my mom is making the trip to Florida."

Beeks has emerged as the top starter for a rebuilt Arkansas pitching staff. He's 3-0 with a 0.51 ERA and has hardly been touched in those three Friday starts, displaying a new out pitch, a changeup that has danced in front of righthanders, making the crafty lefty something special. He's allowed nine hits and one run in 17 2/3 innings.

Beeks was the setup man last year, someone head coach Dave Van Horn knew he could always count on to get out a lefthander and get the ball to Colby Suggs in the late innings. He developed into a nice starter last summer in the Cape Cod League. Van Horn still covets Beeks for the back end of the bullpen, but it's the Friday night spot that looms big for Beeks one weekend before SEC play begins at Florida.

It doesn't really matter to Beeks. He said both roles are exciting, in different ways.

"I really have no preference, because they are both fun. It's nice to go out as a starter and know you are going to get some innings. But by the same token, coming in at the end when it's tight and the game is on the line, that's a blast. So I could do either one and be happy."

He admitted that he's added pitches with the starting role in mind. Pitching coach Dave Jorn, called one of the college baseball's top three by Van Horn, is constantly tinkering with grip and movement to produce another dancing pitch for his guys.

"I've fine tuned some things, especially the changeup," Beeks said. "I have that now to get the righthanders out. I didn't throw that much last year.

"Coach Jorn is always working with you on things and now I've got a four-seam (fast ball) to go with my other pitches. I've got that pitch that runs away. Coach Jorn is great. Sometimes he's hard on us, but it always benefits you. He's always teaching you something if you listen."

The Hogs seemed to have listened to their coaches about their last trip West. They went 0-4 last year in Arizona, losing twice to Arizona State.

"Everybody knows what we did last year (in Arizona)," Beeks said. "We have to come out with a better mentality. We don't face Arizona State or the Gonzaga ace this time, but these are very good teams."

On the mentality after the doubleheader sweep by South Alabama to send the Hogs to California at 7-2, Beeks said it's been a time to channel the focus.

"I think we will bounce back fine," he said. "We got a little lax. We are excited to get back out there. We just have a goal of going out there and getting four wins, concentrating on whatever it takes. Our team knows we are good, but now we've got to show everyone else we are good."

Rightfielder Tyler Spoon thinks the Hogs will be alright.

"Obviously, we were upset," Spoon said about the doubleheader loss. "But you've just got to learn from it and move on.

"You've got to learn from your mistakes and keep going. Unfortunately, it happened, but we can't do anything about those games now, so we've just got to keep getting better and better and be more mentally prepared for this weekend."

There is no carryover from last year's Arizona trip, according to Spoon.

"We haven't really talked about it," Spoon said. "That's last year's team. This is a whole new ballclub. We're excited to go out to California. I've never been there, so I think it's going to be fun. We're looking forward to it. We're not really worried about what we did last year. We're just looking forward to playing."

The road sounds fun to the Hogs.

"Everyone's excited," Spoon said. "Everyone I've been talking to the last couple of days … We're just excited to go somewhere else and play. It's going to be fun to be on the road with each other. It's going to be fun and be a good experience for us."

Beeks will be joined in the starting rotation at Cal by lefty Collin Poche, along with Chris Oliver and Trey Killian. Those four are probably the most experienced pitchers on a staff that lost Ryne Stanek, Barrett Astin, Brandon Moore, Randall Fant and Suggs to the pro draft.

Poche has added 20 pounds on his 6-5 frame, but he's not fared as well as expected. He was slowed by a sore elbow, but he's worked his pitch count up to 70 for his third outing. Van Horn is looking for a little more from Poche and had a one-on-one talk with the Texan after last weekend.

"I'm not sure what day I'm set to go, but I know it's not going to be the opening game," Poche said. "That's Beeks. He's done really well. We all know that he's our Friday night guy.

"I'm getting my pitch count back up and I'm over the sore elbow.

"I'm trying to get my breaking pitch going. I've been throwing a slider, but I've worked on a curve and I'm controlling it better.

"I just have to command the zone a little better. That's what Coach (Dave Van Horn) has talked to me about. I've done really good except for that."

The Hogs play San Francisco at 4:30 p.m. (central time) Friday, then Tulane at 3:30 p.m. Saturday. A doubleheader against host California is set to begin at 3 p.m. Sunday.

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