Head coach Dave Van Horn said on the SEC conference call Monday morning that pitcher Jalen Beeks (sore elbow) and catcher Blake Baxendale (sore hamstring) are both probably out for the league tournament that begins Tuesday with Arkansas facing Texas A&M in the first round.
He also noted after practice that catcher Jake Wise had hurt his hand last weekend.
Arkansas (16-14) is the seventh seed after a hot finish. They swept hapless Missouri to get above .500 for the first time during the SEC season. Texas A&M (14-16), which lost two of three to Arkansas the previous weekend, is the 10th seed. They will play the tournament's second game, around 30 minutes following the tournament's opening game, set for 9:45 a.m. Tuesday. The UA-A&M game will probably start around 12:30 p.m.
Both Beeks and Baxendale have missed the last two weekends as they have rehabilitated injuries. Beeks had been the Friday night starter for most of the season, but Van Horn has rested him since his Ole Miss start.
Van Horn said both players could be available if the Razorbacks, seeded seventh in the SEC tournament after winning six of their last seven league games, are selected to the NCAA tournament. They seem like a likely NCAA tournament team at this point.
The head coach is mulling over possible lineups and one option would be to sit down starting catcher Wise - if he is healthy - in favor of redshirt Alex Gosser.
Wise has been in an offensive slump. Gosser got two hits and a walk in the series finale at Missouri in relief of Wise on Saturday.
"Gosser has done a tremendous job," Van Horn said. "He didn't play until a couple of weeks ago. It's hard to pull Wise out because he's so good with our pitchers, but he's struggled offensively. We might put Alex in. Right now, that's how I'm leaning."
Arkansas will go with Trey Killian on the mound against the Aggies. Chris Oliver is set to pitch game two, if the Hogs win. The first-round game is an elimination game. The tournament switches to double elimination after that. Ole Miss awaits the winner.
Van Horn said his bullpen is ready for the first game, outside of Oliver and Beeks.
"Everyone is available," he said. "As far as other starters down the line, if we get that far, it could be Dominic Tacollini, Collin Poche or maybe Alex Phillips. We'll figure it out based on matchups if we get that far."
One thing is for sure, Clark Eagan will be at the top of the lineup. The freshman from Wisconsin has been red-hot over the last three weekends as the designated hitter.
"He's done a tremendous job," Van Horn said. "Since he's been in the lineup, he's been around .400. Before that, Baxendale, another freshman, was helping us. He had the grand slam and some RBI at LSU. Clark's on base has been around .600. He's hit two home runs and had the big hit to tie it in the ninth at Missouri.
"I think sometimes when you finally get your opportunity and you get to stay in the lineup, you kinda relax."
Van Horn was asked what he'd do if and when Baxendale returns since both have played DH.
"I've been thinking a lot about that," he said. "I don't think Blake will be ready during this tournament, but maybe by the weekend if we stay around. That's a dilemma. It's a good thing. I'm thinking about the options."
Van Horn said the Hogs are playing their best baseball.
"These kids continue to work," Van Horn said. "They are still improving. Yes, I do think we are playing our best baseball."
That's the good news for Tuesday. The bad news is that Van Horn has to face one of his best friends in baseball, A&M coach Rob Childress, a former assistant at a couple of stops. Childress was a former pitching coach under Van Horn.
"It's no fun coaching against friends," Van Horn said. "We are good friends. I'm saying I talk to him once a week, but we do talk. I've known Rob since he was 21. I have a lot of respect for him. He's known as one of the best pitching coaches nationally."
Van Horn will be head coach for Team USA this summer, with Childress as his pitching coach.
"That will be fun this summer," he said. "We'll enjoy that."
How close are they?
"Well, he was there when my first child was born and I was there when his first was born," Van Horn said. "That's pretty big stuff right there.
"I hired him when I was at Texarakana Community College and paid him nothing. He made some sacrifices to get into this business. I knew after two weeks that he had it in him (to be a great coach)."
Some have said that the conference tournaments aren't a big deal, but Van Horn wouldn't say that.
"Any time you come to a tournament, you want to win," he said. "You want that nice trophy to take home. You want a ring. No one wants to go home."
Beeks, Baxendale still Out for Hogs
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