In The Nick Of Time

FAYETTEVILLE --Arkansas left-hander Nick Schmidt started flirting with success from the moment he stepped on the mound this season.

And he's continued to drop hints that Razorbacks fans haven't seen anything yet.

Frankly, this bulky 6-foot-4, 220-pound true freshman from High Ridge, Mo., has been nothing short of amazing.

And No. 9 Arkansas desperately needs him now, more than ever, to continue that trend.

Why?

Because the Razorbacks open their third Southeastern Conference series against No. 23 Auburn on the road, beginning tonight.

"We're counting on him," said Hogs catcher Brian Walker. "I think he'll get the job done.

"He always seems to do it."

Perhaps there is even more pressure on Schmidt to pitch as long as he can because Razorbacks closer Trey Holloway could be lost for the season.

It was discovered earlier this week, Holloway, a left-hander who leads Arkansas with four saves, had to have a screw put in his left elbow.

He injured his arm while throwing a pitch during a 14-1 win against Centenary in Shreveport, La., on March 23.

"I don't think anybody imagined it would go this well this early for me," Schmidt said. "I've just been fortunate to do it but I thought I had the ability to do it.

"It's worked out well."

Schmidt has made seven starts, has a 4-0 record with a 2.04 earned run average. He's given up 25 hits and has struck out 31 in 39 2/3 innings.



Impressive Debut

Schmidt made his SEC debut March 18 against then-No. 4 South Carolina on the road.

All he did was throw 104 pitches in seven innings, allow two hits and strike out 11 in a 9-1 win against the Gamecocks in the conference opener for both schools.

"Some days you're just on and I kind of felt it that game," Schmidt said. "Me and Brian, behind the plate, got things together and hooked up real early. The hitters were hitting and that really helped out, too."

In his last outing -- last Friday in a 5-3 loss against then-No. 24 Mississippi State -- Schmidt was in line for another win. He worked another productive seven innings, threw 103 pitches, allowed four hits and struck out four and left with a 2-1 lead.

Mississippi State, however, rallied for four runs in the ninth off Hogs reliever Charley Boyce to take the series opener.

"He's a great kid and he's been good for us," Walker said. "Freshman, pitching on Friday night. You don't see that a lot at a big-time school. You know, he's handled it real well. He gives us a chance to win every Friday night. He continues to throw a lot better and he hasn't really reached his potential.

"That's scary."

Pitching in the SEC doesn't seem to bother Schmidt.

"It's high competition, there's a lot of good players," Schmidt said. "It's a lot of fun to be in there, too.

"I kind of enjoy it."



A Nice Beginning

Schmidt's press clippings started piling up on Feb. 12 in an 8-1 rain-shortened win against Dallas Baptist in Clay Gould Ballpark in Arlington, Texas.

Schmidt threw five strong innings, allowed three hits, walked two and struck out six while throwing 73 pitches.

Oh, and picked off a runner at first base.

Not bad for a rookie.

On the first pitch of his college career, Schmidt got Dallas Baptist third baseman Cody Montgomery to ground to third.

Omen?

Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn thought it could be at the time.

"He's got a great pitcher's body," Van Horn said following the game. "He's a big, tall lefty, throws down hill, hard to see. He's got a good change-up and that curve ball ... he got the left-handers out a little bit today.

"When he puts it all together, he's going to be pretty good."

Razorbacks pitching coach Dave Jorn agreed.

"Nick has just made a lot of improvements since the fall," Jorn said. "You know, sometimes freshmen get a little intimidated, a little unsure on what's going to happen when they come in and face guys a little older, better competition.

"He just doesn't seem to have any of that in him."

Ever since that first win against Dallas Baptist, Schmidt has done nothing but get better and better.

Sort of a "Dallas Baptist-sm by fire."

"Oh man, he's been dominant, really," said Razorbacks catcher Clint Arnold. "He's pitched great this year. He's really come on since we got back from Christmas.

"I think he's just going to keep it up."

That is in Schmidt's plans.

"I just want to get better every game," he said. "One of my goals is to be a freshman All-American and I want to help this team win and make it back to Omaha and get back to the College World Series like last year."

This big, strong left-hander doesn't overpower anyone, doesn't out-clever them, either.

So, how does he get it done?

"I go right after people," Schmidt said. "I'm not doing to just mess around and throw here and there and let them nibble on it. I am just going to go right at you and bring what I've got.

"I'd say, I'm aggressive."

Schmidt said he plans to be even more aggressive against Auburn because so much is on the line.

Arkansas (21-4 overall, 3-3 in the SEC) must continue to win away from home. Auburn (19-9, 3-3) won its series at LSU last weekend while Arkansas lost its series 2-1 against Mississippi State in Baum Stadium.

"It's a big series for us," Schmidt said. "It's not a make-or-break-us series but we have to stay above .500 and beyond. That could work out to be a good thing.

"You've got to steal some games on the road." And Schmidt might be just the guy to do it.

"I think I have pitched my way into being a starter and I think I've earned it," he said. "You got to earn your start every day. You can't think just because you have had a couple of good starts you've got it made.

"That's just the way it is."


Hawgs Daily Top Stories