Arkansas needs more innings from the starting pitching. If that happens, head coach Dave Van Horn thinks the 2015 Razorbacks "will be a good team."
That's the assessment from Van Horn on Wednesday as he previewed what is now a three-game weekend series with 0-3 Eastern Illinois. When that series will start is still up in the air as Van Horn judges weather forecasts.
Eastern Illinois and Arkansas will try to play the first game of the series at 2 p.m. Saturday.
"It is going to be really cold Saturday," Van Horn said. "We'd like to play three games on three days, but it could be that we have to double up."
Game time is set for 1 p.m. Sunday and 2 p.m. Monday. But, temperatures and forecasts of possible sleet on Sunday make everything tentative.
Originally, the Hogs were slated to play a four-game series with California, a return matchup after the Hogs played four games in a tournament on the west coast last year.
"The weather just didn't look good and they were going to have to miss three games of school and spend a lot of money with the chance of playing just one game," Van Horn said, noting there was an option for the Hogs to go to Cal instead this weekend.
"That just really wasn't feasible. We could have, but we were gone last week and missed class. We are going to miss a lot of class coming up. We needed to stay here. We discussed it, but not for very long."
The Hogs went 1-2 at Mobile, Ala., last weekend, defeating host South Alabama and losing to No. 22 Central Florida and No. 11 Maryland.
It was a nine-run inning the Hogs gave up to Maryland that everyone asked Van Horn about on Wednesday. The Hogs were cruising with a 6-1 lead in the final game of the weekend for the Hogs when Van Horn lifted starter Keaton McKinney after five innings.
Freshman reliever Jonah Patten lasted three batters. The first reached when shortstop Brett McAfee sailed a throw high over the first baseman's head. Patten gave up a single, then a walk.
"He wasn't really close on the four pitches," Van Horn said. "If he had been close on one, I might have left him in, but I went and got him."
Jacob Stone, last year's solid closer, was next and it got worse. He committed a two-run throwing error on a tapper on the first base line. There were two more errors that compounded things in the nine-run inning.
"I didn't see it coming," Van Horn said. "We'd played such good defense."
Indeed, the Hogs had only one error in their first five games, a catcher's interference.
"We could have probably left McKinney in for one more inning," he said. "He'd thrown 78 pitches in five and we had him down for 85. We just decided not to push it."
Van Horn would like to push his starters a little further the next two weekends while prepping for conference play.
"The starters need to give us more innings," he said. "If we can get our starters giving us six, we will be a good team."
The return of projected ace Trey Killian is close. He probably won't throw this weekend, but might pitch against Louisiana Tech.
"We'd like to get him two innings then," Van Horn said. "He thinks he's ready now, but we'd like to hold him back just a bit longer. His elbow is fine. We are just building up strength. When we get him back, that might mean we could put Dominic Taccolini in the bullpen. That would really help us."
Taccolini has shown the ability to pitch twice on the weekend out of the bullpen, something that would give the Hogs a big boost.
For now, it will be Taccolini up first in the starting rotation. Zach Jackson and McKinney should round out the starting rotation.
The nine-run sixth came up a couple of times during Van Horn's time with the media.
"We were up 6-1 on a good team," he said. "It started when the shortstop air mailed first base. Then, we made errors. Then Maryland started swinging the bat. They fouled off some good pitches against Jacob. It was a good job by Maryland.
"I told our team we had things under control and gave one away. Now we have to steal one somewhere along the way.
"As far as the weekend, we left too many on base Friday, then beat the home team 7-0. What you have to do is look around and see where other teams had an inning like us. Vanderbilt gave up seven in an inning and lost."
Van Horn likes his team. He sees nice developments, especially at catcher where the Hogs are replacing Jake Wise.
"Carson Shaddy has been outstanding behind the plate and he's been really good with the bat," Van Horn said. "I'd say he and Tucker Pennell are even now.
"I think we have been good on offense. Clark Eagan was really good the first weekend, but not so good this past weekend. Andrew Benintendi is hitting too many fly balls, but he's swinging it good. I think Tyler Spoon and Bobby Wernes are swinging it good."
Some of the walking wounded will return this weekend.
"Michael Bernal is ready and I think Max Hogan is, too," Van Horn said. "They can both play several positions in the infield and Hogan can really swing the bat."
Outfielder Joe Serrano said the Hogs can score runs.
"We are getting 10 hits a game so that's pretty good," he said. "We just have to do a better job when we get runners to second base. We have to get them in more. We have to hit under pressure a little better."
Spoon isn't concerned about the big inning against Maryland.
"We did a lot of good things in the weekend at Mobile," he said. "We just did some bad things, too. Our defensive lapses are just one of those things that happens sometimes. We don't think we are bad on defense."
Is there disappointment the Pac-12 Bears are not coming to town?
"No, we wanted to play them, but we are just glad to be playing someone," Spoon said. "It would have been awesome to play Cal. But we need to play and we are glad we still have games this weekend."
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