Van Horn: More Offense Needed

Dave Van Horn wants more help from the bottom of the batting order. The Hogs play host to UNLV before traveling to LSU on the weekend.

Dave Van Horn loves his pitching, but he thinks there is more in the tank where offense is concerned after the Arkansas baseball team won the weekend series against No. 1 South Carolina.

The Arkansas pitching staff allowed just three runs to a Carolina team that had a .301 batting average when they got to the Ozarks, but just .289 when they headed East. The UA pitchers have a 2.19 ERA. But Van Horn wants some help from the seven, eight and nine spots in the batting order.

Arkansas (20-12) enters the Perfect Game top 25 at the No. 24 spot after moving to 6-6 in SEC play with two wins over Carolina. They'll play host to No. 17 UNLV on Tuesday and Wednesday, before traveling to No. 11 LSU.

UA starters Jalen Beeks (5-2, 1.05 ERA) and Chris Oliver (3-3, 1.99) earned victories and were rewarded by co-SEC player of the week honors. Van Horn does not remember a similar situation.

"Not with two pitchers," Van Horn said. "I can recall a pitcher and a hitter from the same team after both had a hot weekend getting picked together. But not like this."

But he said the pitching in the SEC is so good that it could happen again. He sees lots of loaded staffs.

"I don't remember the SEC ever being this good with pitching," Van Horn told the Swatter's Club gathering on Monday. "I've said this earlier this year and the coaches talk about it each week, you have Friday night guys pitching throughout the weekend. There are teams that have a Friday night guy on Saturday and Sunday, too."

And Van Horn may be about to change his Friday night guy. Trey Killian (1-5, 2.70) has been good enough to win his last three outings, but has nothing to show of it in a tough-luck streak.

"He may be the best 1-5 pitcher in the country," Van Horn said. "We may go with him Friday night. We haven't decided yet."

That would mean Killian would go opposite LSU's great Aaron Nola (6-1, 0.47).

"Nola is a guy who gave up a home run in the ninth to lose at Florida two weeks ago, 2-1, and that made him so mad he pitched a complete game shutout last week," Van Horn said. "That's what you run into in this league.

"Trey has pitched really well for us. I don't think he pays attention to (the 1-5 record). He's not complaining. He knows his day is coming, maybe this year or next year. He could go Friday night and we'll know after we look at the scouting report.

"Trey is one of the best competitors we have. He commands the fast ball and his breaking ball is better and he's added a changeup. He's had tough luck.

"He gets us deep in games and saves our bullpen. He gives us a chance to win every time."

Van Horn said he knew the Hogs had good pitching coming back despite losing the likes of Ryne Stanek, Barrett Astin, Colby Suggs, Randall Fant and Brandon Moore from last year.

"I didn't know it would be as good, but I knew we returned good arms," he said. "It was just hard to envision because so many of them pitched in the bullpen. I didn't know how long it would take for them to find their roles. But we put them in spots and they did well.

"We've had guys like Jalen Beeks step up from being a setup man. Chris Oliver always had great stuff, but he was in the back end and now he's a starter. I think Chris has turned the corner. He's got that secondary pitch now."

The Hogs just need more offense. They are hitting .257 as a team. Brian Anderson (.333), Joe Serrano (.320) and Tyler Spoon (.291) are the heart of the lineup. Van Horn is looking to get those three some help.

"We just need to get two or three more chipping in," Van Horn said. "We need Andrew Benintendi, Eric Fisher, Krisjon Wilkerson or Bobby Wernes -- two or three of those guys -- to get going. You get a couple more to put with those first three and then you've got five or six going good, we can make a move."

Van Horn will continue to bat Spoon in the leadoff, trying to take pressure off Benintendi, the freshman. That was the idea when Van Horn swapped them in the outfield with Spoon going to center field.

"We wanted someone to take a little better routes on balls in the alleys," he said. "Andrew didn't like the move but we wanted to take some pressure off of him. And, it gives us a glove to the alley side (with the lefty throwing Benintendi) in right and that can help you. Benintendi's routes were just not good and he needed to be more aggressive.

"Spoon has a little more experience. You can't play the game scared. Tyler is doing a good job in center."

It looks like Michael Bernal will have to play shortstop a few more weeks. Junior Brett McAfee, the returning starter, is still having back trouble. Van Horn said it doesn't look like McAfee will make the LSU trip.

"We don't know for sure, but we may have to sit him down for a couple of weeks," Van Horn said. "We just don't know how long it's going to take."

McAfee played a midweek game last week, but the back flared up again.

There's no easy touch coming to Baum for the midweek games this week. UNLV faces the Hogs at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday and 6:05 on Wednesday. The Rebels are 22-9 overall, but just 9-8 on the road. They have faced tough competition and that's reflected in a No. 13 RPI.

The Rebels enter with a .290 batting average and a thin but strong pitching staff. They'll start Kenny Oakley (2-2, 1.37) and Cody Roper (1-0, 7.88). The Hogs will go with Colin Poche (1.27, 2-0) and Alex Phillips (2-0, 2.25).

Van Horn has stayed with Phillips in midweek games despite a slow start. The freshman has not shown the velocity that Van Horn remembers from high school.

"Alex threw 4 mph harder in high school," Van Horn said. "I don't know what's up. We are going to give him a shot. But we have other young guys ready to go.

"No one is hitting Poche, but he's not commanding his curve ball. If he can give us seven, we'll let him go."

Van Horn respects the UNLV program.

"They can hit and they have four really good pitchers that they've used a lot," he said. "They've played tough competition. I always pay attention when I get a call that someone wants to come here. You know they think they are good. They called us."

Among the most interesting things Van Horn told the Swatter's Club, he said few might not understand him squeezing for a run with a big lead against Carolina.

"They are yelling at me from the stands for bunting," he said. "I had seen that Florida had blown most of a 9-0 lead in the ninth inning (before winning 11-10). I wanted to tell the guy to stay up in the stands and I'd stay where I was. You need to keep bunting and keep scoring. I don't want to bunt Anderson, but sometimes you have to and hope someone picks him up."

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