Arkansas Hurlers Armed And Dangerous

FAYETTEVILLE -- With a poker face caked with mystery and a voice coated only with very slight concern, Arkansas pitching coach Dave Jorn took the high road last week.

However, any lingering thoughts about his hurlers might be evaporated today when Arkansas plays at Louisiana Tech in its season-opening series.

In this particular scenario, whether Punxsutawney Phil did or did not see his shadow this a.m. on Groundhog Day celebration in Gobbler's Knob, matters little.

If Phil did see his shadow it doesn't mean six more weeks of bad publicity for yet another Arkansas athletic program.

Seems this Arkansas baseball team could have more sunny days than perhaps the other teams on campus for sure.

With its highest ranking -- it's No. 4 by Collegiate Baseball -- in school history, there's every reason to believe "Hog Heaven" is approachable, but it all starts with pitching, and defense being a very close second.

Jorn figures, at this point, All-American left-hander Nick Schmidt and righties Shaun Seibert and Duke Welker are the most likely candidates for the starting rotation.

"We're looking at Schmidt on Friday, and Seibert on Saturday, and Duke Welker on Sunday," Jorn said. "There's a couple of guys we could throw into that mix, but those are the three we are going to start with and see what happens with the rest of the guys.

"We're just trying to gear up with roles as far as middle reliever, set up and closer.

"We've got some options."

Lurking in the bullpen is right-hander Jess Todd, a junior college transplant and preseason All-American, who throws stuff so nasty it warrants Swedish subtitles.

Of course, it all starts with Schmidt, a soft-spoken 6-foot-5, 230-pound flame-throwing junior, who'll probably be drafted high enough to leave for greener pasture$ after this season.

Really, the only thing missing on Schmidt's resume is a trip to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.

"This could possibly be my last year," Schmidt said. "I might as well do it now, get to Omaha.

"I think we've got the depth on this staff ... Seibert, Duke Welker, Todd ... there's a lot of guys who can do it."

Seibert, who spent last summer becoming the co-Pitcher of the Year in the famed Cape Cod League, agrees with Schmidt's assessment.

"It's unbelievable," he said. "I mean, we've got a lot of guys that can pitch. Unfortunately, not everyone is going to get to because we have so many guys that can.

"The new guys are looking to help us, you know, Jess Todd, Duke Welker. I think we are going to have a solid staff."

That's music -- like hearing public address announcer Larry Shank sing the national anthem on Sundays in Baum Stadium -- to Jorn's perked up ears.

"We've got probably better arms, maybe more depth in arms than we've had in the past," Jorn said. "You know, however, we didn't do that well in the fall.

"We got banged around pretty much by the offense."

That's just added scripture and verse to this story which could turn out to be a best seller.

"You know," Jorn said. "I'll still take some time to be where you'd like to be. I'm still looking forward to the year as far as having more guys who we'll be able to depend on.

"If you are getting runs and keep the other teams from scoring, it does make it a little easier. You don't have to worry about making bad pitches.

"That's a comforting feeling."



JERRY L. REED IS A SENIOR SPORTSWRITER FOR THE MORNING NEWS. E-MAIL: JREED@NWAONLINE.NET




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