Arkansas veterans Trey Killian and Michael Bernal are doubtful for opening weekend of the baseball season, but both should return by the second weekend of the season. The Hogs are set to open the season at 3 p.m. Feb. 13 against North Dakota.
Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said Killian, a junior pitcher, is building his pitch count while coming off a sore arm that sidelined him in the summer and last fall. There are no issues other than just rebuilding his pitch count for starting duty.
"Trey is fine," Van Horn said at the Monday Swatter's Club luncheon at the Hilton Garden Inn. "We just don't want to rush him while he builds his pitch count."
Bernal strained his knee on a hard collision at second base in the Hogs' first scrimmage of the season seven days ago. Bernal started at shortstop last year, but is likely competing for the second base job with Bret McAfee's return from a back injury last season.
"He was a little stiff the first couple of days back," Van Horn said. "We will take it slow with him and I do not think we'll have him opening weekend. But I'd think he'd be ready the second weekend."
With Bernal on the sideline, the competition for the job at second for the opener is between Rick Nomura and Max Hogan. Van Horn said both are good defenders, but better hitters. Nomura is a switch hitter while Hogan bats from the left side.
Van Horn said first baseman Clark Eagan is almost 100 percent after a shoulder injury sliding into second base in the first practice of the season. Eagan should be able to start in the opener.
The Arkansas coach said the battle to fill the catching job continues to be led by junior college transfer Tucker Pennell. Interestingly, the coach working with Pennell is last year's catcher, Jake Wise, now a student coach.
"Jake is a good teacher and Tucker is learning," Van Horn said. "Tucker is a good catch and throw guy. He's the front runner right now."
Among the early highlights in three scrimmages has been freshman Blake Wiggins with three home runs. Van Horn said, "We need to figure out how to get him some at bats."
Other newcomers turning heads would be lefty hitter Luke Bonfield, pitchers Keaton McKinney and Kyle Pate. Pate is the only lefty on the roster in the pitching plans. Van Horn said Pate could pitch two to three times a weekend because of situations.
Of the returnees, Van Horn said outfielders Andrew Benintendi, Tyler Spoon and Joe Serrano have been impressive. Benintendi has gained 10 pounds, Serrano is up 15-18 pounds and Spoon is noticeably more comfortable.
"Benintendi has turned it up a notch," Van Horn said. "I just think Tyler is more relaxed. Serrano hits with more authority."
Carson Shaddy, redshirt freshman from Fayetteville, has been impressive and might be the most improved player on the team. He's working at catcher and outfield. We've worked him a lot in the outfield."
It was the first Swatter's Club meeting of the year. Moving to the Hilton Garden Inn for the first time, the event was packed. Between 350 and 400 attended. There was a treat as new baseball announcer Phil Elson dazzled with his perfect rendition of Casey at the Bat, the great Ernest Thayer poem.
Van Horn: Bernal, Killian Doubtful
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