Arkansas Pitchers Need Innings Early

FAYETTEVILLE -- Charley Boyce owns the pitch which helped guide Arkansas to its first College World Series appearance since 1989.

At a mere 86 mph, the fourth-year junior's well-placed, two-seam fastball can make the knees buckle the best hitters in the Southeastern Conference and beyond.

It could be the first pitch thrown in the Hogs' season opener as Boyce is slated to start Friday's 3 p.m. game at Dallas Baptist, which kicks off a four-game round robin. The last three games will be on Saturday and Sunday at Texas-Arlington.

"It's a filthy pitch," said Brian Walker, a catcher who transferred from Arizona State. "I don't face it hitting that much, but catching it, it's the best pitch on the team. The right-handed hitters, it jumps underneath their bat every time.

"When he throws it right, nobody can hit it."

Boyce, who had a 3.20 ERA and 10-3 record, said he's going to need more help this season with the departure of pitchers Jay Sawatski, Clint Brannon and Boyd Goodner, who combined for more than 250-innings last season.

"We got a little more depth and a little more talent this year, but we're lacking in experience," Boyce said. "All we've got to do is get some of our young guys and our transfer guys some innings and get rolling a little bit in February, gain some confidence about them and then they can take it into the SEC season."

Outside of Boyce, the rest of this weekend's starting rotation still is being debated, but the coaches have decided that Josh Smith and Lee Land, a pair of right-handers who are both recovering from Tommy John surgery, likely will start two of the three remaining games in Texas.

Land transferred from Wake Forest while Smith, who sports a 90-plus mph fastball, redshirted last season because of surgery.

"We've got to start them early in the season even though they might not deserve it yet," said Arkansas pitching coach Dave Jorn. "We need to kind of prepare them so they know when they're going pitch and they can stretch, get long toss in and get completely loose before you send them out there. And it's only about 45-50 pitches the first time out.

"If they don't deserve to start once they show they're in good enough shape, then you slide them in where ever you can."

While Boyce is the only pitcher with veteran poise heading into the season, the Razorbacks do feature some upperclassmen who had solid outings last season in left-hander Trey Holloway (2-2 record, 3.77 ERA last season) and right-handers Justin White (2-3, 6.08) and Daryl Maday (4-0, 4.75).

Holloway has been the most consistent in practices, picking up where he left off the second half of the season. He could end up in a role similar to Sawatski's last season.

"He's really only had one bad outing in the spring and the fall combined," said Arkansas third-year coach Dave Van Horn "We may have to throw him twice on the weekends. He's so confident and you can see it in him in just the way that he approaches everything."

Another returner showing consistency is sophomore southpaw James Gilbert, who struck out five in six innings last season. He throws between 78-82 mph, but has been just as effective as any of the Hogs' fireballers in practice.

"He's more relaxed," Jorn said. "His delivery is real solid. He does it the same way every time and therefore, he's got a pretty good chance to locate. He's got three or four pitches that he throws for strikes and he's gotten guys out all year."

Out of the newcomers, the coaches sound excited about all of them and even said "any could end up starters" at this point. Most say the ones to watch are southpaws Nick Schmidt and Devon Collis and right-handers Phillip Graham and Shaun Siebert.

"We're going to live with the freshman," Jorn said. "We're going to have to develop them because three or four of them have pretty good arms that are going to be in the mix that need to rise and come through for us to have success."

Another freshman, left-hander T.J. Sinovich, could be out of the loop as he's schedule for a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan on his arm today. He slowly has been losing command of his pitches the past few weeks after showing perhaps the most promise of all the newcomers early on.

"He's just losing the feel for the ball in his hand," Jorn said. "It could be serious, maybe even a Tommy John issue, but we don't know for sure."

Siebert and Graham both sport 90-plus mph fastballs and coaches say either could be a closer if they don't end up in a starting or supporting role out of the bullpen.

"Siebert's got lightening in his arm," Van Horn said. " What he's shown out here is that he'll dominate you for an inning or two and then he'll have a bad inning, so I don't know how we are going to use him."

Graham, who's from Rogers, suffered a sore shoulder, a broken hand and some minor injuries since practices began in the fall so his mound time has been limited.

"He hasn't been able to show what he can do but we know he has good stuff," Jorn said. "When we recruited him, we loved his curveball and we liked his fastball. Both of those pitches were good enough to get people out at this level and past it."

Collis and Schmidt have been shutting down teammates during intersquad scrimmages. Collis is a junior college transfer who throws a fastball in the mid-80s and a sharp breaking ball while Schmidt has been consistent with three pitches, including a 90-mph fastball and a "sneaky" changeup.

Both should see significant innings as they continue to improve and pitch with the same authority they've shown in practice.

For Jorn, the characteristics of the pitchers who earn the most innings will always be the same. He said he plans to find 6-to-8 who fit the bill by the start of conference play March 18 at South Carolina.

"Make the hitter swing the bat," Jorn said. "Our defense is going to be good, we're going to pick the ball up and make plays, so let's not stay out there too long. Pound the zone early and make quality pitches down in the zone. That's our philosophy.

"We've got some talent and some depth, we just don't know how much after Charley and a couple of the others yet."

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