State of the Hogs: Dave Jorn
Dave Jorn almost blushed when a reporter informed him Thursday that the mission that day was to illicit player quotes on him for this space.
"Ah, why did you have to go and do that," Jorn said. "Got nothing else you can write?" Oh, there are other worthy topics. Could be writing about Creighton's ambidextrous pitcher.
Or, I could try to find Rosie the Turtle, the team mascot from another season. But after talking with several players, it was clear that Jorn, the veteran UA pitching coach, should be the topic.
"He's a sage," said lefty pitcher Nick Schmidt. "He's taught me so much about baseball. Everything I know, it came from him."
Catcher Brian Walker said, "Coach Jorn starts talking, everyone tries to get close and listen. You are going to get a chance to soak up a tremendous amount of baseball knowledge. Nick is right. Sage is the right word."
Right-handed pitcher Jess Todd added, "He's made me the pitcher I am today. He's taught me so much. I give all the credit to Coach Jorn."
Even slugger Danny Hamblin noted, "He's a big part of our success, the recipe for winning. He's taught me so much about the game. I listen when he speaks. You know you are about to learn something."
Todd said he managed to sit beside Jorn during the SEC title game last week in Hoover, Ala. He marveled at the way Jorn called the game.
"It was amazing," Todd said. "He gives the catcher the pitch. He'd say, ‘This guy is expecting this, so we are going to give him a slider on the outside corner. It'll be a caught looking, a strikeout.' Boom, it was exactly like that. He would call what the batter was going to do on every pitch and why. Amazing. You learn so much from him."
Todd Butler doubles as hitting coach and recruiting coordinator on head coach Dave Van Horn's staff. He said his job is simple.
"I'm going to be honest, Coach Jorn didn't have enough bullets when I got here," Butler said. "He didn't have the arms. I told him I was going to get him some more bullets. He was doing great things with what he had. He did a lot with guys like Charley Boyce. But Charley didn't have the arm. I just knew if we could get Coach Jorn some better arms, we'd be in business."
Butler points to Schmidt and Todd as perfect examples. Both have added to their pitch selection and improved velocity after they arrived at Arkansas. Duke Welker, the Hogs' starter for Friday night's game, has improved his velocity in a big way under Jorn.
"When I'm recruiting, I tell the pitchers that Coach Jorn will give them another 2-5 mph," Butler said. "Dave Jorn is the best pitching coach in college baseball. I tell them that because I know it's true.
"I know Schmidt's added velocity. I think Todd has, too. Welker threw 92 mph last year at Seminole. Dave got him and now he's throwing 95 to 96. I knew that would happen."
Of course, Todd's success of late with a new pitch — a two-seam fastball — has been well chronicled. He used it to fan 17 South Carolina batters in the SEC tournament to set the Arkansas and SEC tournament record.
"You saw me early this year," Todd said. "I was getting knocked around. I couldn't get anyone out. Coach Jorn showed me the two-seamer and that's made me the pitcher I am now. He showed me the grip and said it was the pitch he used."
Butler said Jorn goes at college pitching different than most. It's more of a pro ball mentality in the way he calls a game.
"He does it with the fast ball," Butler said. "He doesn't call curve ball after curve ball and have them roll their thumbs over pitch after pitch like a lot of college pitching coaches do. He's calling a lot of fast balls like they do at the pro level. He's working the inside and outside portion of the plate.
"Of course, one of his secrets is that he gets their velocity up. He'll get their mechanics right and they usually do add some speed. That's one of the reasons he can use the fast ball so much." Schmidt nodded his head to that theme.
"Really, all I had was a curve ball when I got here," Schmidt said. "My fast ball was 86 to maybe 88. He got it to 92 and 93 on a consistent basis. And, he made my curve ball better.
"He helps you in so many ways. He helped my mental toughness. He got me in shape. He taught me the importance of running for a pitcher. It's not just one thing, it's so many things. He's been at the pro level. He's managed at the Triple A level and done so much. His knowledge of the game is unbelievable."
It's not just knowledge, Walker said.
"It's a passion for the game," he said. "If you around him, that passion spreads. He is also very demanding. I think that is all because of how much he loves the game of baseball."
However, it's not always the Jorn way or the highway. Todd came to Arkansas with an unorthodox pitching motion, a herky-jerky movement that some might want to change.
"Coach Jorn told me he'd never seen anything like it," Todd said. "Then, at the same time, he told me, ‘If it's not broke, why fix it.' So he left it alone. He said we'd work on other things, not my motion."
Butler is excited with the way the UA staff has come together late in the season. Sadly, he knows the big guns -- Todd, Schmidt and Welker -- will all be gone after this season. As juniors, they are draftable and all figure to go in the top three rounds.
"I've got to go get some more bullets for Coach Jorn," he said. "It's a constant thing. But the beauty of it is that I know what he's going to do with them when we get them here. With these facilities and Coach Jorn, Arkansas is an easy sell."
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