As two of Arkansas returning baseball stars, second baseman Rick Nomura and closer Zach Jackson are set to be a couple of the leaders on this season’s squad.
While Nomura’s role is set, first-team All-SEC closer Jackson would like the opportunity to change his into a starter.
“I think if you get him in here and talked to him," Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn said, "he will probably tell you what every competitor is going to say ‘Yeah, I would like to start games.’
“But he’ll do whatever we ask him. I just think his reputation and almost some teams fear him coming out of the pen late almost to the point where ‘we can’t get him, we can’t score a couple of runs.’
“I sure like having that and we are all about the bullpen here. You can battle or keep it close through five or six, seven, eight innings and if you have a guy at the end of the game, you are going to win a lot of games.
“It sure is nice having a veteran come in with his experience. He’ll have an opportunity to prove that he can do it, but I truly believe he is going to make his money in professional baseball finishing up games.”
Jackson (5-1, 2.10 ERA and nine saves in 2015), whose fast ball touched 95 while pitching for USA Baseball this summer, said his preference is to start.
“I definitely want to get my chance to start and see what I can do this year and if I can help the team in that way,” Jackson said, “but like it was last year I was definitely more effective for us if I was deep in the pen.
“So I guess maybe if starting doesn’t work out then I would be fine in coming back there to help the team. "
Jackson said he is not worried about how his role will be as a professional.
“It’s more to myself that I want to prove that I can start at this level,” Jackson said. “That is something that I feel like in the long run could be up in the air. Maybe I will be a back end guy, maybe I will be a starter.
“Right now I would just like to prove to myself that I could start at this level and then maybe take it to pro ball level, but right now I will kind of do whatever helps us most here.”
Jackson said he is not too worried about injured Arkansas pitchers Keaton McKinney, Dominic Taccolini and James Teague getting back in time for the season.
“Honestly, not a lot of concern because the way that all three are making progress right now and especially by SEC play they are all going to be one hundred percent,” Jackson said.
He also added his thoughts on graduate transfer Doug Willey (6-2, 220), who pitched at Division II Franklin Pierce and who has been dubbed grandpa by his new teammates.
“I love Doug,” Jackson said. “He is the kind of guy that is really good for your staff. You don’t see it a lot of times from incoming people to come in and be a leader, but he is a fifth-year guy and you just naturally respect somebody like that.
“He works hard and even though he has not been here just knows the ropes. He knows things he should be doing and what he shouldn’t be doing. He is just real mature about the game.
“I think he is going to be real good for us and be a back end guy that I think is going to be a huge impact for us this year.
“He is kind of a sidewinder, subby (submarine) guy that I feel like could eat up an inning almost every game for us.”
Nomura, who hit .298 last season with 11 doubles, one triple and four home runs, faced him in Arkansas’ Fall World Series.
“His ball moves a lot, he is very hard to hit and he throws a lot of strikes,” Nomura said.
Nomura said he was set to be drafted in the somewhere in mid-20 rounds by the Los Angeles Dodgers, but told them not to bother because he planned to play another year at Arkansas.
“I had the opportunity to sign pro and I asked him because I didn’t know what to do,” Nomura said. “I wasn’t expecting to get drafted and when it came I was like ‘Coach, what do I do?’
“He said ‘if you want the money then you should take it, but coming back to Arkansas would be a definite benefit to working on your skills and get better at what you need to get better at.’
“I’m lucky that I have trust in our coach and I just trusted his word.”
Nomura thinks Arkansas’ line up this season may be a nice blend of speed and power.
“We have a lot of speed and I wouldn’t say a lot of home run power, but we have a lot of gap-to-gap power and sometimes that is very important in a line up because you need guys from one to nine to have an impact.
“I feel like our seven, eight and nine guys this year are going to be pretty good for us because they can provide a lot of runs because they are going to be sneaky and they are going to get those key hits when we need them.”
Zach Jackson jumps for joy after getting the final out to get Arkansas to the College World Series