State of the Hogs: Hitting

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Sometimes what you think you see, wasn't really what you saw all along.

You make up your mind what you think you are going to see, and that's what your mind lets you see. That's me a lot of the time, falling victim to illusion.

See, I went to Wednesday night's Arkansas baseball game with Missouri State thinking I was going to see Razorback hitters clubbing more fastballs.

I've got it in my mind that this is a fastball hitting club. That may be true since almost all college baseball teams perhaps do a little better against straight pitches.

After talking with Arkansas hitting coach Todd Butler, I think I know a little better what I saw Wednesday night.

First, I wasn't sitting in the press box. Seldom do I watch baseball games from there anymore. I much prefer the stands, and in the case of Wednesday night, I was in the front row with one of my daughters. We were just a few feet from the visitor's on-deck circle.

I like it there. I can see movement in the pitch. I can even see the grip of the pitchers as the ball comes out of their hands — like when James Mahler was throwing that nasty knuckle curve against Missouri State.

From that close range, I was pretty sure of what I saw — until Butler explained how the Hogs scored 14 against the Bears and 25 in a doubleheader sweep of Ole Miss on Saturday.

First, you have to mention the Ole Miss pitching, perhaps among the finest in the SEC along with the Georgia staff. All three of the Ole Miss starters can bring heat, and are among the main reason the Rebels were a top-five national pick in preseason.

"I can tell you I was a little concerned when I prepared for the Ole Miss starters in the Saturday doubleheader," Butler said. "I watched video late Friday night of the guys we were getting ready to face and I didn't like what I saw.

"They had guys that could throw 90-94 (mph) in the first game Saturday and 90-97 in the second. That's bringing it."

What I was always taught was that a fast, fast, fastball can leave the yard just as quickly as it gets to the plate. And, that's what happened. The Hogs corked nine homers against Ole Miss pitching. Fastballs, right?

"Well, it was some," Butler said. "Mainly, it was hitting a lot of mistakes."

Those were location mistakes and not just fastballs.

"I think what you could say is that we are just being more aggressive," Butler said. "I don't think we are guessing as much.

"We are just doing a better job of hitting. We are hitting fastballs, breaking balls and changeups. It's just being more aggressive. We are hitting the 2-oh fastball away. We are hitting a 1-oh fast ball and we are hitting the 1-oh changeup."

Butler sees better hitting up and down the lineup. "Some of our older guys are really playing well right now," Butler said. "The thing is, we've had so many injuries and our lineup has changed so much, we may not have a single guy get to 60 hits and that would be very uncommon.

"But guys like Casey Coon are really swinging the bat well. His numbers are not that good right now, but he's swinging it as well as I've ever seen him.

"We've got Chase Leavitt, see his average really jump in the last few weeks. We've got Jeff Nutt back in the lineup and he's swinging a big bat. Tim Smalling is on fire."

It's just a matter of the Hogs working at a lot of things. Some of them have clicked.

"With Smalling, we added a leg kick a few weeks ago," Butler said. "It helped him with his balance and he's not falling over anymore."

Some of it isn't physical, but mental.

"We've done a lot of things, like video and other things," he said. "But sometimes the video can hurt more than help. You watch it and you start to get paralyzed. I've done it all. Watch the video, not watch it. Watch it a lot, watch it a little.

"I think sometimes it just comes down to confidence. That's where I see us right now. Like against Missouri State, we got down 4-0 and there was no panic in the dugout. We were relaxed and confident."

Winning the series on three straight SEC weekends will do that. If the Hogs can make it four straight, they can perhaps start talking about postseason play.

"We just need to keep doing what we've been doing," Butler said. "We need to make our move. There are a lot of teams right where we are right now, but we just need to worry about the Razorbacks."

I'm not worried any more. I see the hits. They are coming harder and faster these days. And, that's no illusion.

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