Taccolini to Get Opening Day Start for Arkansas Baseball

Dave Van Horn has one week to make sure, but if the Hogs started the season today, Dominic Taccolini would get the first start. The Arkansas baseball team hosted media day Saturday morning.

Dave Van Horn told the media Saturday morning that if he had to say today, the rotation for the opening weekend of baseball season next week would be probably Dominic Taccolini to start Friday, then followed by possibly Keaton McKinney and Blaine Knight. Taccolini pitched yesterday and did well. Knight and McKinney will pitch today and tomorrow. So how they throw will determine the rest of the rotation.

The Razorbacks, coming off a trip to the College World Series in Omaha, open the season against Central Michigan at 3 p.m. Friday in Baum Stadium.

Junior Zach Jackson will be the closer, at least for the time being. It could be that he starts some late in the weekend if he hasn't thrown much early. But Van Horn wants him as a closer.

"We need to win games early in the season and not get in trouble like we did last season at the start," Van Horn said. "So I want to have Zach to finish games as we come out of the gate."

Taccolini pitched well yesterday and is penciled in as the opening day starter. Both Van Horn and Taccolini said there was good command of the strike zone.

"Taccolini threw better yesterday than he did his first two times this spring," Van Horn said.

Taccolini said, "I threw 70 pitches yesterday and a lot of strikes. It was a good step. I don't think I'd have a pitch count next weekend."

Van Horn was not ready to commit on an opening day lineup, but there were clues that suggested this might be position players:

1b - Cullen Gassaway
2b - Rick Nomura
SS - Michael Bernal
3b - Carson Shaddy
Lf - Luke Bonfield
Cf - Clark Eagan
Rf - Chad Spanberger
C - Tucker Pennell
Dh - Eric Cole

Cole, a true freshman, is the likely leadoff man with Shaddy batting second, although Van Horn said those two are interchangeable. Eagan is likely going to bat third.

"Cleanup, I don't know," Van Horn said. "No one has been consistent. There are guys who light it up in batting practice, but they haven't taken it to the games."

Bernal has shown power, but Van Horn covets the senior deeper in the lineup, possibly eighth.

Spanberger and Bonfield have shown power, too. Bonfield looked capable of that in the fall, but has been inconsistent this spring.

"I'm probably going to slide Bonfield down a little bit today," Van Horn said. "Spanberger has the potential. I hope he puts it together while he's here. I'd love to see him hit four or five. He's just got one more step to go and that's to swing the bat. He tends to wait for the perfect pitch.

"Gassaway is hitting it extremely well. He might hit in the four hole. He is getting two hits a game and he's done well at first, fielding everything. He doesn't have the range of Eagan, but he's good. Eagan played center before he got here and he can play out there.

"Bonfield looks like the guy you want out there, big and physical. He's a thinker though and no one out works him. He reminds me of Zack Cox when he first go here. He just swings and swings. Zack took so many swings as a freshman he hurt himself. Sometimes you just have to tell Bonfield, go home. He can work too hard."

Van Horn likes the depth of his pitching staff, especially the bullpen.

"We will tell our starters, especially early, just get us three or four innings," he said. "I am happy with Jackson in the bullpen."

Van Horn said pitching coach Dave Jorn pulled Jackson in for a meeting this week about his role.

"He'd like to start," Van Horn said. "But we explained that we'd really like to have him late as we start off the season. We just need him at the end coming out of the chute.

"The role could change. If you remember our second year here, we had a saying in the clubhouse, (Clint) Brannon and (Charlie) Boyce and no other choice."

The other choice was Jay Sawatski as a closer and possibly a start on Sunday. It worked all the way to Omaha.

"I think we have more pitching than last year," he said. "We have depth and the roles are going to evolve."

James Teague has a bit of a sore arm to open the season and will be used sparingly. The only other injury Van Horn talked about was Alex Gosser's sore foot. He might not be available the opening weekend.

Depth at catcher looks to be solid. Pennell will be backed up by freshman Grant Koch. The Fayetteville product has turned heads with his power at the plate.

"He doesn't throw as good as Tucker, but he can hit," Van Horn said. "He's hit some home runs. He might be in there if it turns out we need some offense."

Van Horn is proud of some new touches for Baum Stadium. There's a new high definitition video board, a new net behind home plate and fancy graphics around the stadium, including panels recognizing former players. There are big panel graphics outside the stadium, including one for Van Horn and former UA head coach Norm DeBryin.

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