State of the Hogs: More With Less

Trey Kilian finds the fire to lead an Arkansas pitching staff that has done more with less in the eyes of veteran coach Dave Jorn.

There were some midweek games in March that took forever. With walk after walk, the Arkansas pitching staff allowed some games to stretch into the four-hour range. It was enough to test the intestinal fortitude of both head coach Dave Van Horn and pitching coach Dave Jorn

"I've never been through anything like it," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. "It made me sick and it made Coach Jorn sick. But all we could do was stay positive and continue to encourage our players."

Looking back, Jorn beams with pride about the way an inexperienced pitching staff battled back to help the Razorbacks earn an NCAA tournament trip to the Stillwater Regional with a 35-22 overall record. The Hogs were 11-12 at one point, standing just 1-5 in the SEC. They finished with a 17-12 league mark and own a sparkling 12-6 mark in true road games.

Jorn, with 19 years as UA pitching coach, recalls some of the formidable staffs with aces like of Ryne Stanek, Dallas Keuchel and Nick Schmidt along with a deep bullpen. He said this staff isn't nearly as talented.

"When you look at this staff, it may have been one that has achieved more with less," Jorn said. "They have hung in and battled. I'm proud of that. We've had some staffs with better arms. But you look at some of these guys and they've done a lot with what they've got.

"A guy like Jackson Lowery, the light has come on. He's relaxed and really pitched well. Josh Alberius had never pitched and now he thinks he's as good as anyone."

Both Lowery and Alberius were infielders when they started college, but have learned to pitch under Jorn. Lowery has earned a 6-1 record.

"We've got some guys like Lance Phillips, just a walk-on, converted to sub marine," Jorn said. "He's gone out and competed and got us some outs.

"We've got guys who have continued to work. I think Kyle Pate may finally be ready to go. He got us two outs against lefthanders at Georgia. He's just kept working and has some confidence back."

Pate, a Fayetteville freshman, is the staff's only lefthander. He's pitched only 8 1/3 innings this season.

"The thing about him, no one has really seen him enough to have a scouting report," Jorn said. "That's a nice thing this time of year."

All of that is great, but it will probably still come down to what the staff stars can do. Trey Killian, Zach Jackson and Keaton McKinney need to pitch big innings for the Hogs. Killian will get the nod in the opener at noon Friday against Oral Roberts. Jackson will be slated to close. McKinney is expected to start game two, but there are questions about his health.

McKinney (6-1) sustained an injury to his right hip two weeks ago at Georgia. He didn't make it out of the second inning in his SEC start, walking the bases loaded because of soreness in his hip. There is still some soreness, Jorn said Tuesday.

"He's day-to-day," Jorn said. "We expect him to go Saturday, but we may give him an extra day. You figure you'll have to play three games."

McKinney said he's better and will try to pitch Saturday. But he won't know what his hip will let him do until he pitches. His rehab has been good. Van Horn just said his true freshman is "50-50."

But first, the Hogs will give the ball to Killian, the junior from Norfork. They hope they get the Killian who pitched in Hoover, Ala., last week. He touched 93 on the radar gun for the first time all year after struggling with tendinitis in the off season.

"You need your starters to eat up innings and Trey can do that for us," Jorn said. "That was the Trey from last year in the SEC tournament. He hadn't looked like that his last few outings. We just challenged him to be more aggressive and attack. It seemed to work. He was downhill and spotting his fast ball inside and out. That was very good."

It was clearly a better outing as far as velocity, although Jorn downplayed what was appearing on the Hoover Met scoreboard.

"That radar gun at the SEC tournament was a little hot," Jorn said. "It was reading high for all of our guys, about 3 mph hot. But I do think Trey had more velo. It was better."

Killian said his arm felt better from the start. He said both Van Horn and Jorn are firm that UA pitchers are not to look at the radar gun numbers on the scoreboard if there are readouts. Baum Stadium does not have radar gun numbers on the scoreboard, although Van Horn said that may be coming next year when a new digital board arrives.

"I did accidentally check out the gun number in the seventh," Killian said. "I was looking back to make sure of the count and saw 93 in the seventh inning. I had thought my velocity was up all game. But I didn't know the numbers.

"Some of the guys told me in the dugout when I was done that it was about that for the entire game. I could tell it was better.

"I think this time of year your velocity always gets a little better. The weather starts to get warmer and everyone just throws harder in warm weather."

Throwing heat isn't Killian's strength, though. He's made his living hitting the corner with a fast ball at the knees, moving in and out and staying away from the middle of the plate or up in the zone. He's just not had great command all season. He was bashed at Texas A&M when his fast ball drifted up in the zone.

"Those guys can really hit and they even hit some of my good pitches," Killian said. "There are days like that. But I left some up for them and they can really hit mistakes."

Killian said he went out to dinner with Texas A&M star Lance Banks after that beating.

"We were together on Team USA and got to be really good friends," Killian said. "I was interested to see what he had to say about the way I pitched. He said some of my stuff was good, but they hit it anyway. But they said I definitely left some up and they are going to hammer those.

"It was just a bad outing. You know, I felt good going into that game. But it happens like that."

Interestingly, that weekend was a high point for the team. The Hogs came back after Killian's loss to win the last two games of the series against the then No. 1 ranked Aggies.

"That was definitely a low point for me," Killian said. "The last year has had some great highs. I got to pitch for Team USA, then got injured. I had never been injured before where I had to sit out a game in any sport. There were some real low points. I missed the first two weeks and then came back with the good outing against Vanderbilt. I thought everything was going to be fine like nothing ever happened.

"But it wasn't. It just wasn't quite there. I didn't know what."

Finally, Jorn told him what was missing.

"He said it just didn't look like I had the same fire as before," Killian said. "Both Coach Jorn and Coach Van Horn challenged me to compete with more fire, an attitude. Coach Jorn just asked me where my fire had gone."

Jorn said It sometimes is about turning up the fire. Killian retired the first 14 batters in order and carried a 1-0 lead into the eighth before giving up an RBI double to Benito Santiago.

There was some iron to that. Jorn said it was a good breaker from Killian, a pitch Santiago had not touched all year. It was Santiago's only RBI on the season.

"But the main thing, Trey was back to pitching like Trey," Jorn said. "He pitched.

"I don't mean throwing it harder. It's about the process, not the result. I told him to go compete and we wouldn't worry about the result. Trey had always been about that, attacking the hitters. You can lose confidence and stop doing that. But in Hoover, I saw him do that again. I think he had gotten away from being aggressive. That last start was pretty good."

The Hogs need the same type outing against ORU.

"We'll go with what we've done on Friday nights," Jorn said. "We'll open with Trey and have Zach Jackson close it, if we can. That's our plan."

But he knows there is something in the bullpen if it doesn't work out.

"Those guys have been good and we've just kept playing and found a way to grind it out," Jorn said. "We just needed some experience."

One of those young pitchers who kept grinding said he learned that from Killian.

"He's a guy we look up to that grinds," James Teague said. "We've seen him pick it up of late. He's gotten more competitive. We see him on game day and you just stay away from him, in the locker room or in the dugout. He's got the fire right now."

Pitching coach Dave Jorn agrees.

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