Jason Ivester

State of the Hogs: Bullpen Accountability in Question

Dave Van Horn has the SEC's top closer in Zach Jackson. There's also another proven reliever in the bullpen, junior James Teague. But after Gonzaga beat up the Arkansas bullpen in a 15-10 victory, does Van Horn have enough options?

Gonzaga pounded 18 hits in a 15-10 victory over Arkansas on Wednesday. That was 16 hits and 13 runs allowed by the bullpen.

No, Zach Jackson and James Teague didn't pitch. Those are the experienced arms in the Arkansas bullpen. Jackson was the SEC's top closer last year and should be among the league's best again this year. Teague is a proven reliever, too. Apparently, that's where Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn and pitching coach Dave Jorn want to keep Teague.

The Zags plated nine of their runs in the last three innings, an area of the game that Van Horn generally thinks is safe. In the first 12 games, the opposition had scored just five runs total in the last three innings.

So what happened besides Van Horn decided to rest the SEC's top closer and his wing man? A bunch of young guns spit the bit. Does he have enough answers in the bullpen beyond Jackson and Teague?

Some who failed against Gonzaga are not going to be pitching on the weekend. Van Horn will have to cut his roster to 27 for SEC weekends, something that might be easier to do after seeing the Gonzaga debacle.

Out of this bunch of 12 who threw (and few pitched) against the Zags -- one off the NCAA record -- I suspect that Weston Rogers, Barrett Loseke, Jordan Rodriguez and Doug Willey pitch on the weekend. Maybe Cannon Chadwick. The others are probably still looking at maybe getting into a midweek game to gain some trust with the coaches.

Here are the guys that I think who are worthy to pitch on the weekend:

Name                     ERA  W-L  App
Dominic Taccolini   2.50  3-0  3
Keaton McKinney   6.17 0-0  3
Zach Jackson        2.89  0-1  6
James Teague      1.23   2-1  4
Doug Willey           0.00  0-0  6
Barrett Loseke       0.00  0-0  3
Jordan Rodriguez  3.86 0-0  7

So, yes, Van Horn has options, some of them quite good. I think Loseke will get more work. Doug Willey and Jordan Rodriguez got important outs in the Houston tournament last month. They will do well again and can be counted upon in late-game situations.

The rest have a lot to prove. Some will step forward. Some may not. Blaine Knight was warming in the pen at game's end. I bet he's one that steps forward at some point. He's got very good velocity and good breaking ball. He's just trying to settle in. I figure him to be a lot like Teague was early last year. At some point, I think he'll prove reliable. He got starts in the first three weekend, but probably won't this weekend against Western Illinois.

Others I have high hopes to find themselves, Chadwick, Rogers and Hunter Hart. I know they think highly of Isaiah Campbell and Jake Reindl. They think Kacey Murphy will develop into a starter.

Baseball is a long season. It's a marathon and not a sprint. A lot changes during four months. Some of these youngsters -- and that's what a lot of them are -- will develop nicely under Jorn, perhaps the nation's best pitching coach. He's the right man to coax good stuff out of them.

Jorn was the last man I saw as I headed out of Baum Stadium after the loss to Gonzaga. He was headed to the parking lot after spending quite a bit of time looking at video of the night's problems. He had a simple thought as we headed to opposite corners of the parking lot. He said, "We have a lot of growing up to do."

There was nothing in his voice or eyes that suggested he didn't think it will happen. I believe that, too. I believe in Jorn. He has repeatedly said he likes the potential in this staff. He will figure it out just like he did last year.

The good news is that the Hogs have some victories that will serve them well as the season progresses. Beating Rice, Houston and Texas Tech in the Houston Collegiate Classic is good stuff. Gonzaga won one of three at TCU last weekend, so the Zags aren't terrible.

I tend to think the offense will provide decent support, too. Jake Arledge, Clark Eagan, Carson Shaddy, Tucker Pennell and Cullen Gassaway all are hitting over .300 among out of the regular lineup.

Arledge has been on a tear. He's hitting .464 with an on base percentage of .583. He didn't start early in the year, but he's Van Horn's leadoff man now. He's got 13 hits and 10 walks to knock Eric Cole out of the first spot in the lineup.

Not everything is perfect with this baseball team. There is an eb and flow to baseball. It's an old thought, but the game is a marathon not a sprint. Dave Jorn looked ready for the marathon as he headed to his truck.

Arkansas plays host to Western Illinois in a three-game series beginning at 3 p.m. Friday at Baum Stadium. Game time Saturday is 2 p.m. The Sunday start is set for 1 p.m.

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