Van Horn: Hogs Need Practice

Dave Van Horn knows the recipe for curing what ails the Arkansas baseball team in a string of one-run losses. The veteran coach wants practice time.

Dave Van Horn knows the under-construction indoor baseball practice facility can't get here soon enough. But he was at least pleased Wednesday that his team was headed to the practice field for the second straight day.

"That thing has the roof, the windows are going in and the trim," Van Horn said. "It's looking great. I know Mike Anderson is ready for their building, too.

"It all helps. It helps us with practice and it helps in recruiting. It will help us in a lot of ways."

The Hogs have missed a lot of practice time over the last month with ice and snow on the field. After spending Monday traveling, the Hogs took advantage of a 75-degree Tuesday with a great practice. It was mid 40s Wednesday, but Van Horn didn't mind.

"We had our best practice in two weeks (Tuesday)," Van Horn said. "It was spirited. It was a long day. We lifted weights at 6 a.m., did all of our classes and then everyone was on time for practice with a smile on their face.

"We look forward to playing this weekend. We want to get it rolling.

"We lost those one-run games. It was disappointing. We out-hit the opposition, but didn't get the big hit. We even guessed right on the suicide squeeze but the throw to the catcher clipped the runner on the helmet."

The trip to Florida comes after the Hogs faced three teams on the west coast that have all been outside and with the Hogs opening SEC play this weekend at Florida. Obviously, the weather has been good in Gainesville.

Arkansas (8-5) has lost five of six games and the losses are by a margin of six runs as the Hogs have lost four one-run decisions. They lost three of four at California last weekend.

"All three of those teams had been on the field," Van Horn said. "Tulane might have been the best and we beat them (4-0). We handled them. We might have been the best team there, but we didn't show it.

"I just told our guys yesterday that we were 7-0 in February and we've started March 1-5. We've got a lot of games starting Friday and we have a chance to make up ground and we need to get off to a good start in SEC play."

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Florida plays host to the Razorbacks in the SEC opening series beginning Friday coming off a string of one-run victories. They sit at the bottom of the SEC in hitting with a .250 average, but they've come up with the timely hit.

"We haven't started our rallies early enough," Van Horn said. "We've gotten two-out hits. The one time we got the bases loaded with our three-four-five hittes, last weekend, we got called out and hit a couple of fly outs.

"So we have to get on base more often earlier, and have more timely hits."

The pitching has been fine. After losing the entire starting location and top closer to the pro draft, the Hogs still have pitched well so far. They are among the SEC leaders with a 1.88 ERA. Jalen Beeks, a setup man last year, has paced the starting rotation and will be the Friday night man for the fifth straight weekend.

"We've gotta go with Beeks," Van Horn said. "We gotta keep pitching him (on Friday night). He's saved our bullpen. He went to his pitch count week one, two, three and then last weekend he went 10 over, but it was an easy nine innings."

Beeks gave the Hogs their first complete game in three years, but lost a 2-1 decision to San Francisco.

"He really had only one inning he was in the stretch," Van Horn said. "He cruised. He did a tremendous job."

After Beeks, Van Horn will start Trey Killian and Chris Oliver. Collin Poche will go to the bullpen after giving up too many walks.

Van Horn wants to see more out of Poche. As far position players, he needs improvement at the plate from catcher Jake Wise and first baseman Eric Fisher.

"Wise definitely showed a lot more at the plate this past weekend," Van Horn said. "He changed some things in his swing and how he was holding the bat. He'd been thinking about too many things. He was swinging the bat a lot better and I think he'll come out of it.

"Fisher is streaky. He has two home runs, but he needs to drive in more runs.

"Those two guys need to pick it up and we've talked to them. Poche is the pitcher who needs to elevate. He is coming off the sore arm that slowed him down to start the season and maybe he'll kick it in in April. He needs to be a starter, but he has a walk an inning. That won't make it."

Van Horn knows it's simple.

"We have been in all of the games, we just need to punch in more runs," he said. "I don't expect the pitching to hold people down all year, but I do expect our offense to improve.

"We've lost some one-run games and Florida has won some. We are about the same. Both have played good competition. The only advantage they have, they are at home. They have a couple of experienced pitchers."

Van Horn said the team is looking forward to the trip. On the good side, it's going to be an easier trip than to Cal. Instead of a two-legged commercial trip that featured a four-hour leg, the Hogs will charter.

"I think our young guys are really looking forward to this one," Van Horn said. "We'll load our equipment on a bus that takes it 16 hours to Gainesville and picks us up at the airport."

The trip to California started with a meeting at Baum Stadium at 4 a.m., the 40-man travel party split into two planes for a flight to Chicago. One plane was 90 minutes late.

"The wake-up call was at 3 a.m.," Van Horn said. "We got to the hotel, changed and went to practice. We were like zombies.

"We will get more rest on this trip. It's the way to go. The new guys are going wild. This is nice."

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