Know Your Crusaders

After having its last two games wiped out, Arkansas (5-1) hopes to get back to action Tuesday and Wednesday with single games each day against the Valparaiso Crusaders (4-1).

Arkansas baseball coach Dave Van Horn met with Razorback fans Monday at the Swatter's Club in Fayetteville.

Van Horn said the coaching staff is disappointed on one hand about the team's three extra inning games in its first six outings because the Razorbacks were unable to close out those games in nine innings. On the other hand, he said the coaching staff is encouraged, especially with the experience and toughness gained from winning those close contests.

He said the players were disappointed after their win over Western Illinois for a few reasons. First, they weren't able to put the team away in nine innings despite having a 4-run lead. Second, they haven't been able to blow opponents out yet. Third, home runs have come at a slower rate than hoped.

The wind has been the factor in the home runs, Van Horn said. The wind has been blowing from the south for most part this season. That helps most parks because it's blowing out of the stadium. It has the opposite impact inside Baum Stadium. Van Horn cited Brett Eibner's walk-off triple against Western Illinois as an example.

He said any other time that ball goes out of the park, but because of the wind it was knocked down. Arkansas will hit a lot of home runs this season, Van Horn said. They're just having to be more patient than they'd expected at this point in the year.

"You've got to be able to play in the elements," Van Horn said. "The wind will be blowing out of the park eventually and that will add a whole other set of factors.

"The players are frustrated because they haven't hammered anybody yet. They have that mentality. They're mean. It just hasn't happened yet."

Van Horn said he has been happy with the starting pitching, saying it has been "solid." Middle relief has been "average." There are two reasons for that, Van Horn said.

1. The middle relievers haven't done a good job.

2. The team needs to get Mike Bolsinger (mono) and Bryan Bingham (ribs) back in the starting rotation to take some pressure off the bullpen. Bolsinger is having an ultrasound done today to see where he's at with his mono. Van Horn said if things go as planned, both could see some action this week.

The closers have done a good job, Van Horn said. Zack Cox "has been pretty good." His back problems have limited his time in the infield. But for a freshman closer it's tough to get going out of the gate, Van Horn said. "He's done a pretty good job of that." Stephen Richards has also "pitched pretty well."

Bo Bigham, a freshman from Texarkana and the 2008 Mr. Baseball in Arkansas, has been coming on strong for the team recently, Van Horn said. In fact, the second baseman was scheduled to get a start one day over the weekend against Western Illinois to get him some experience and give Ben Tschepikow a little bit of a break.

His hitting is solid and he's the most improved defensive player on the team, Van Horn said, so don't be surprised to see him get some action soon, be it at second or in the DH spot.

As for the Tuesday-Wednesday series against Valparaiso, Van Horn said he asks his team three questions when going into a series against an unknown.

1. Do you know what conference they are in?

2. What are their school colors?

3. What is their record?

If the team doesn't know one of those three questions, it runs. "If we don't take everybody seriously, we'll get beat," Van Horn said.

Valpo is 4-1 on the season and has been in Arkansas since last Thursday after a weekend series with UALR. They didn't throw their best pitcher in the series and will save him for Wednesday, Van Horn said. Both pitchers they will throw will be seniors, he said.

As for Arkansas' starting pitching, Drew Smyly will get the start Tuesday and Brett Eibner will Wednesday. Eibner got the loss in Arkansas' Tuesday loss to Kansas last week, but had a great start. Eibner struck out for batters in 2.2 innings of work.

"He looked like a big-leaguer," Van Horn said. "He didn't get a called third strike on their catcher that would have ended the inning. That started a four run rally for them. A baseball game can change in one pitch and that was a perfect example.

"Brett has worked a lot on his pitching. I think he'll be able to help us out this year."

The coach was asked a question about the new uniforms, and in particular the long pants look.

"I don't really like them," Van Horn said, "but the players say the pants are more comfortable. Some of our bigger body guys say they look better, too. Look, we aren't going to lose any recruits over it. We have to mix our uniforms up. We still haven't broke out one of the uniforms we have. We'll see how you react then."

He was also asked about Razorback quarterbacks Tyler Wilson and Jim Youngblood playing baseball. Neither will play this year, Van Horn said, and he's doubtful Wilson ever will. On Youngblood, "we might know in about a year if he'll ever be able to do anything for us."

Van Horn said a pair of base-running gaffes were about the only times he has gone through withdrawals coaching third base this season. He said Todd Butler has done a good job there.

One final note, he said the team has scheduled to play in a tournament in San Diego in March 2011. The tournament is hosted by San Diego State University and could be played in Petco Park, the home of the San Diego Padres. So far, Arkansas, San Diego and San Diego State have signed on to play in the tournament, which will be four games in four days. Two more teams will compete in it, Van Horn said.


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