Diamond Hogs Look To Improve

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas' Jake Dugger slapped the barrel of his bat after watching a breaking ball fall through the zone for a called third strike.

The bat head still in his right hand, Dugger walked back to the dugout with his head down, replaying the pitch sequence over and over again in his mind, trying to figure out where the at-bat went wrong.

"I hate striking out," Dugger said.

He was 6 of 9 with two homers after the strikeout to finish 7 of 13 during last weekend's three-game Jaguar Invitational in Mobile, Ala. But for Dugger and the rest of the No. 17 Razorbacks (3-0), it was the negatives, not the positives, driving this week's workouts.

"As a team, we struck out too much," Dugger said. "We've got to do better with two strikes and get better at driving in runs with people on bases. Really, we've got to get better swings all around.

"We've got a lot more to offer as an offense. We know it. The coaches know it. Everybody knows it. We've just got to come out and do it consistently every time out."

Even Hogs ace Nick Schimdt wasn't too excited about no-hitting Oklahoma State for six innings last Saturday. He was named Pro-Line Caps National Pitcher of the Week for his performance.

"I threw probably 50 percent of my curveballs for strikes and that's not good," Schmidt said. "It's exactly what me and (UA pitching) coach (Dave) Jorn have been working on. I was falling off to my glove side and it just pulls the curve ball into the dirt.

"There's a lot of room for improvement."

Schmidt is looking to improve in his second start against No. 18 TCU at 1 p.m. today in the Al Ogletree Classic in Edinburg, Texas. Arkansas also play Stephen F. Austin at 1 p.m. on Saturday and Texas-Pan American at 4 p.m. on Sunday.

Attitudes reflect leadership. The Hogs' never-satisfied nature mirrors fourth-year coach Dave Van Horn's attitude. He knows it takes steady improvement throughout a 56-game regular season to become a serious postseason threat.

"You want to win them all, but you want to get better, too," Van Horn said. "We'll get this weekend in and then come home and get ready to open up (in Baum Stadium against Louisiana Tech on Feb. 24)."

Beating a pair of probable NCAA Regional teams in Oklahoma State and South Alabama without the offense hitting on all cylinders was impressive. The Razorbacks will be tested even more today against a TCU team which fields its best squad in years.

The Horned Frogs (2-2) will start Sam Demel, a sophomore right-hander who earned Conference USA All-Tournament honors last season. He struck out eight and walked four while allowing one earned run on five hits in seven innings against then-No. 12 Tulane a week ago.

Regardless of the opponent, the Razorbacks always expect to win. Confidence is another trait they get from Van Horn. But win or lose, especially in nonconference games, the chief goal is improving.

That's why Van Horn uses a lot of different players in the early going, trying to improve his lineup by finding the ideal combination before the upcoming Southeastern Conference slate.

"It also sends a message that nothing is set," Van Horn said. "Guys got to keep working hard and trying to figure it out."

Only three Razorbacks hit .300 or above during the three games in Alabama. Van Horn wants to see five or six hitters through the lineup producing, not three. He specifically called out Danny Hamblin and Brian Walker, who were a combined 3 for 22 last weekend.

Pitchers were able to keep those guys, and most of the Razorbacks, off balance with off-speed pitches early in counts. But that wasn't the only problem players noticed during film study of last week's games.

"We're all late," Walker said. "You've got to get something going early (in the count) to be a successful hitter and we're not getting that front foot down. The guys that got it down quicker are getting hits. The guys that didn't, aren't getting hits.

"We've just got to get better this weekend."


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