Teague, Taccolini ready for starts

It will be James Teague and Dominic Taccolini, a pair of strike throwers, on the mound first for the Arkansas baseball team. The season opener is at 3 p.m. Friday with North Dakota.

The weather report is not great for Sunday when the brunt of a cold front is scheduled to hit Northwest Arkansas, according to Dave Van Horn. But no matter what, the Arkansas baseball coach knows the Razorbacks probably have an advantage in the three-game series with North Dakota.

"We've had good weather and have been outside and also got a lot of work in our indoor facility," Van Horn said. "North Dakota has not been outside yet. We have an advantage."

Van Horn met with the media Wednesday afternoon at Baum Stadium for the last time before the start of the season. The Hogs play host to North Dakota in the opener at 3 p.m. Friday. The second game is set for 1 p.m. Saturday. The finale is scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday.

But, there are a variety of weather reports that may complicate the finale of the series. Could the Hogs double up on Saturday?

"We are looking at a lot of things," he said. "There are several forecasts out. We expect it to be in the 50s on Friday and the Saturday forecast changes depending on who you talk to. It could be 50 on Saturday, or in the 40s, maybe even the 30s. We know that Sunday, it's going to be cold, probably in the 30s. As we get closer, we'll look at what we need to do."

The Hogs have some injuries to fight through this weekend. Junior pitcher Trey Killian won't pitch while he regains his arm strength from inactivity over the summer and fall while recovering from elbow tendinitis. Van Horn said it might be several weekends before Killian is ready.

"He's not throwing off the mound yet," Van Horn said. "I think we knew he wasn't going to pitch this weekend, and I'm not sure he'll throw next weekend in Mobile. I'm really not sure if he'll be ready for Cal or Loyola or Vandy. I'm just not sure."

Van Horn likes his pitching, though. He said sophomores James Teague, Dominic Taccolini and Zach Jackson were the likely starters for the three games, although Jackson might pitch in long relief of Teague or Taccolini making a decision on Sunday set as "to be announced."

"If Jackson doesn't pitch Friday or Saturday, he'd probably start on Sunday," Van Horn said. "But if we need him to win a game earlier in the weekend, we will do that with him."

Teague and Taccolini are first in the rotation because they've been the best strike throwers over the last few weeks. Both have sparkled.

"Teague has thrown extremely well," Van Horn said. "He had a good summer and was going well in the fall when we sat him down because of an oblique injury. He's thrown well early for us. He's throwing strikes.

"Taccolini has been good as well. Both Dominic and James could be relievers or starters. We just want to see how they do in this role right now. Zach is going to be in the bullpen those first two games."

Teague said it was an honor to be first up in the rotation, although he also knows it's just as much an audition.

"The main thing, you just want your team to win the game," he said. "But it's exciting."

Taccolini called the weekend start "a dream come true. I started off pretty bad the fall of my freshman year. This shows how far I've come."

There are several players out with injuries. Clark Eagan, bothered with a shoulder injury, has recovered and will start at first base, although he likely will wear a shoulder brace.

"He hurt it sliding into first," Van Horn said. "That's the way he likes to slide. We'd like him to go feet first, but when you get in a game, he may go in head first. That's just how he likes it."

Junior outfielder/designated hitter Krisjohn Wilkerson is out with a broken hand. Infielder Max Hogan is out with a concussion after a pitch broke his helmet. Infielder Matt Campbell has a thumb and finger injury.

The middle infield posts will be manned by Brett McAfee (shortstop) and Rick Nomura (second base). Michael Bernal is bothered by a knee sprain, but might be available by Sunday. Either way, Van Horn said he likes the McAfee-Nomura combination.

"Basically, Nomura won the job at second," Van Horn said."He won it with his bat and his defense."

Van Horn might play as many as four catchers on the weekend, but junior college transfer Tucker Pennell will be the starter.

"We'll do what we have to to win the games and if we need to pinch hit or run for our catchers in situations, we'll just play all of them," he said. "Pennell is first, but we may play all of them. We have a lot of pinch hitters, so we'll just use our catching depth to get them in there in certain situations."

Luke Bonfield will open Friday as the designated hitter. He's a strong hitter, but hasn't won a position in the field. It appears the starting outfield will be Joe Serrano in left, Andrew Benintendi in center and Tyler Spoon in right.

Teague, the opening day pitcher, knows the hitters across college baseball love the new baseball that has reduced seams and flies further. But pitchers like it, too.

"The new ball does help the offense," Teague said. "But it's helped me. I can do more with it. It allows me to spin some pitches more and I've added a hard slider, kind of a hybrid cutter/slider. It's been a huge help."

Taccolini said it's a ball with "better feel" for pitchers.

"I'm getting better bite with my breaking balls," he said. "And, I'm known as a sinker ball pitcher and there is more movement down with my fast ball. I've got a better feel. I can aim it and make it do what I want with this ball. I think it will help me keep the ball down and get more ground balls."

Benintendi doesn't worry about the Arkansas pitching despite a lot of new faces in starting roles.

"I think you might say they are new, but they've got experience in the SEC and in the summer against good competition," Benintendi said. "I think we look at those guys as veterans."

Benintendi is looking at the weather and the front that will bring a north wind that generally pushes the ball out to right field.

"We are told not to look at the wind," he said. "But I don't know how you don't. It figures in everything we do in the field and is a big deal here. And, if it's blowing out, you might want to take a shot that way (to right). You might just have to. We are always aware of the forecasts and we are looking at them."

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