Razorbacks Shift Rotation

FAYETTEVILLE -- For once, Duke Welker won't have to live up to the pitching of Nick Schmidt and Jess Todd.

After spending much of the 2007 season third in the Arkansas rotation, Welker has been moved up to the front as the Razorbacks prepare to begin NCAA regional play.

Coming off one of his best starts of the season last Saturday against South Carolina in the Southeastern Conference Tournament, Welker will get the start Friday against Albany.

"I haven't thought about it really," Welker said. "It's just another game and the Friday game is the first one we've got to win. "I'm glad I've been put in that situation and I need to put our team in a situation to win."

Welker might not be thinking much of the move, but Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn has. By pitching the 6-foot-7 junior righthander Friday, the Razorbacks will now have their top two pitchers -- Schmidt and Todd -- available on Saturday and Sunday.

"What really gave Duke the opportunity to pitch the first game (of the regional) was how he pitched the last game," Van Horn said. "I thought he was outstanding, he only threw 70-some pitches and it really showed the Duke of old.

"We're just trying to give ourselves the best chance to win the tournament. You know, I've had No. 1 guys who aren't as good as Duke Welker when he's on. So we're excited that he's able to go this Friday and we're going to do everything we can to win Friday and hopefully move on."

Welker's availability in the Fayetteville Regional was up in the air late last week. After throwing seven strong innings in a 3-2 win against South Carolina, Welker was removed due to a blister on his throwing hand.

As of Tuesday, though, Welker appears ready to go.

"I think it's OK," Arkansas pitching coach Dave Jorn said. "We threw in the bullpen today and it seemed OK. He probably could have pitched a little longer in that South Carolina game, but he had the blister and looking down the road, we just decided let's not push it or make it any worse than it was.

"But right now it's OK and I expect it will be fine for the game."

Along with Welker being moved up to the front of the rotation, the Diamond Hogs will switch up Schmidt and Todd as well. Instead of throwing Schmidt first, Van Horn said Todd would pitch Saturday and Schmidt would be saved for Sunday.

"We'll probably go with Todd (on Saturday) and keep him in the two hole," Van Horn said. "That's where he's been in the past few weeks and I don't see that changing.

"Now if we got in trouble early Friday we'll do what we have to do, but that's the plan now."

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