State of the Hogs: Familiar Stuff for Zach Jackson

Zach Jackson hasn't been his usual self in his eight outings this spring. Or maybe it has been the usual.

What's wrong with Zach Jackson?

That's been the familiar refrain around Baum Stadium this spring. The Arkansas closer has been less than stellar in his eight outings in the 2016 season.

The All-SEC closer last year, Jackson has a 4.20 ERA. He's 1-2 in 15 innings. Opposing hitters are hitting .231 against Jackson. He's given up two home runs and blown one save. He took the loss against South Carolina Sunday after taking over with the Hogs up 6-4 in the fifth inning.

Jackson was almost untouchable for much of last season. Hitters batted just .196 against him in 27 games. He was 5-1 with nine saves.

Dave Van Horn said you have to look a little deeper into the numbers to understand Jackson's struggles this season. They match what he did early last year, too.

"You go back to last year this time, he was just like this," Van Horn said. "It was the same stuff. He was wild and behind in the count.

"He struggled against Maryland in the South Alabama tournament. He struggled against Vanderbilt. Then he started getting better."

Van Horn said it's the same old problem Jackson has faced since arriving at Arkansas.

"It all starts with throwing the fast ball where he wants it," Van Horn said. "He can be as good as he ever was if he locates that fast ball."

If not, hitters will sit on his curve and change-up, as South Carolina hitters did on Sunday

"The lefties were sitting on the change-up," Van Horn said. "He'd get to 2-2 and 3-2 and he'd have to throw something he could get over the plate. They were sitting on it."

Van Horn said it's a matter of mechanics speeding up.

"He gets out there and he gets to going too quick," he said. "He over throws the fast ball. And, if you over throw, it doesn't go as fast."

Van Horn said he's no golfer, but understands enough to make a comparison to pitching.

"It's like golf, when your swing gets too fast, you start hooking and slicing," he said. "I know enough to be able to say it's like what's going on with Zach. He's got to slow down."

Maybe that's about to happen.

"I think he's ready to roll," Van Horn said. "I think he'll be ready this weekend."

Van Horn thinks the Hogs will be ready to roll for the three-game series against Auburn.

"I think we'll bounce back," he said.

That will start with Friday starter Dominic Taccolini. South Carolina battered Taccolini for eight runs in the first two innings, then Taccolini put up four straight goose eggs.

"It was uncharacteristic for him," Van Horn said. "He's been good. But he was elevating his pitches. He's usually around the knees. I think he was just too amped up. Once he got tired after those first two innings, he was back to what he'd been doing."

Van Horn was not pleased with the 33 strikeouts from UA hitters on the weekend.

"That's 11 a game," Van Horn said. "For a few guys, that was their first time in the SEC. I don't think they handled it well.

"I'm not naming names, but we had guys walking back to the dugout saying that pitch was five inches out of the strike zone. I told them, 'Well, it was strike three.'

"If pitchers are hitting their spots the umpire is going to give them that pitch. They earned it. You have to adjust.

"We didn't do well with two strikes. We hadn't over the last two weeks."

The 0-for-3 start is not something new for Van Horn at Arkansas. The Hogs started 1-7 last year.

"We've tried to stay real positive," Van Horn said. "Obviously, we got it handed to us in the first two and we had a lead on Sunday. We had a five-run lead with 15 outs left and gave it up. That's disappointing. We could have saved the trip.

"We gave them two days off and we came back with a good practice yesterday. We got our feet back under us. Now we have to slow down a really good hitting Auburn team."

Van Horn said he'll tweak his starting rotation. After Taccolini, Keaton McKinney moves up a day for a Saturday start. It could be Barrett Loeske on Sunday, but Van Horn said he won't hesitate to use Loseke if there is a need earlier in the weekend.

But the key may be getting Jackson rolling. He'll be the closer once again for the weekend.

"He was automatic at the end of last season," Van Horn said. "He was great. I think he's going to start helping us."

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