Josh Alberius seemed a little disappointed "the cat was out of the bag" after Luke Bonfield and Rick Nomura tipped media to his new nickname.
More appropriately, "The Cockroach" is out of the bag. And, Alberius wouldn't be surprised if fans didn't make reference to the new nickname sometime during the Missouri series this weekend.
Alberius is almost a sure thing to pitch after he struck out the final five batters of the game to help the Hogs earn a 3-2 victory over Auburn to open the series last weekend. It upped his record to 2-0 and also identified the Little Rock junior as perhaps another option along with Zach Jackson in the back end of the bullpen.
That was when teammates referenced his new nickname in interviews. Alberius was the headliner in the Thursday interviews ahead of the home series at Baum Stadium. Game time Friday is 6:30 p.m. Saturday's game is set for 7:30 p.m. Sunday's start time is 12:30 p.m.
"I didn't know Bonfield let the cat out of the bag," Alberius said. "Coach (Tony) Vitello gave it to me and it stuck."
Clarke Eagan said the thought from the coach was "that you can't get rid of him." Alberius pitched and played short in high school at Little Rock Christian, but figured he was going to play second base at Arkansas. At 5-11 and 170, he's not what you generally think about as far as size for an SEC pitcher.
"When I got here, there were guys like Ryne Stanek here, so I thought I would play middle infield," he said. "I never thought about pitcher. I was going to leave the pitching to those guys. But then they needed some pitching and it kinda worked out.
"Really, I'm just a pitcher now. I don't do anything but pitch. It's pitching all of the time. I don't even think about infield now."
Alberius said it was clear two falls ago that the Hogs were short on pitching. There was a brief time during that fall that his arm was sore and he moved back to second base to give it a rest. But not for long.
"I even changed my arm slot," Alberius said. "It wasn't a hard transition to become a pitcher. I'd always pitched in high school."
Alberius is 2-0 with a 1.26 ERA in nine outings. Opponents are batting just .196 against the righthander. He has 22 strikeouts against just four walks in 14.1 innings.
Alberius hits 88 to 90 mph on the radar gun, but it's his ability to hit spots that has impressed. He's got four pitches, including a superb slider that has been an out pitch. His change-up has been solid, too. His four-seam fast ball has hit spots on the corner.
It's not clear if there are any fans ready to celebrate "The Cockroach," but Alberius won't mind.
"Our fans are the best in the country," he said. "Nothing they do is surprising. They have the Hawaiian stuff for Nomura. They had the Spoon for Tyler. They have sharks for Clarke Eagan. So if they have something, it's fine.
"We are excited about this weekend. We are fired up after losing on Tuesday at Oklahoma State. We will be fired up for Missouri. We know they have a great team and they pitch well."
Missouri opened with six straight SEC losses, but they were against highly ranked Florida and Missouri.
"They've got three great starters," Alberius said. "We know to expect tough games."
The Hogs will pitch Dominic Taccolini on Friday night, Keaton McKinney on Saturday and coach Dave Van Horn said Thursday that he'll wait until Sunday to announce a starter for the series finale.
Missouri's first two starters are outstanding. Reggie McClain (3-0) has a 1.72 ERA and allows opposing batters a .236 average. He's got 43 strikeouts against just two walks. Tanner Houck is the Saturday pitcher. He's one of the nation's top sophomores and could be the top overall pick next year in the major league draft. Houck (2-2) has hit 99 mph on the radar gun. He's got 48 strikeouts against 10 walks and the opposition hits just .185.
Missouri may have tough starting pitching, but Arkansas has The Cockroach.