Diamond Hogs Still Hot

Arkansas plays host to Missouri State on Wednesday before Mississippi State rolls into the Ozarks for the weekend series.

Dave Van Horn met with the media this morning to provide an update and answer questions. First, Brett Eibner will be the pitching starter Wednesday against Missouri State. He should pitch a couple of innings, and then they will piece the pitching together from there.

Van Horn said the game was originally scheduled for Tuesday, but he asked for the move because he said he knew they would need a practice day to work on fundamentals at this point in the season. They take Mondays off. And, they have been playing every Tuesday.

He was hoping for an outdoor practice today to work on defensive fundamentals ... bunt coverages, etc. Of course, the bottom fell out of the sky just minutes ago as the front rolled through. It's probably going to rain out any chance for an outside practice.

Mississippi State is likely to throw three straight lefties as starters this weekend. There are a lot of lefty hitters in the UA lineup. Van Horn doesn't worry about that so much. He said Chase Leavitt, Ben Tschepikow and Andy Wilkins -- the heart of the order -- hit lefties as good or better than righthanders despite swinging the bat from the left side. He said they are all hitting at or above .500 against lefthanders. He said some of the other lefties in the lineup don't do that well, but have done well. He may platoon some of those with more righthanders this weekend.

Eibner will be one of the righthanded batters in the lineup this weekend. Van Horn wants to get him jump started against all of those lefty pitchers. Eibner has struggled to this point, but Van Horn said he's still hopeful that he turns the corner with his bat.

"We thought he'd be our three-hole hitter," Van Horn said. "He hit almost .300 last year and we thought he'd do better, but he's off to a bad start. But this may be the weekend he snaps out of it and goes 10 for 15.

"The good thing, the team has picked him up. You carry 15 to 16 hitters for a reason."

Baseball America seems to be the ranking system or poll that Van Horn thinks is the most reliable and consistent. He said they don't seem to move teams around from one weekend to the next with big jumps or drops. For example, BA had the Hogs 16th last weekend and moved them to 14th this weekend. Collegiate Baseball had the Hogs 23rd last week, now No. 9 this weekend.

Tschepikow continues to draw praise from Van Horn for the way he's playing, leading and taking care of business for the Hogs in the three hole.

"He's changed the way he swings, a better swing, developed strength and has worked extremely hard," Van Horn said of the fifth-year senior. "He's developed through age and repetition. Coach (Todd) Butler has done a tremendous job with him and you see some things really taking hold.

"When I look back at his freshman year, I saw him being this guy. He came in over the second half and hit almost .400. He didn't swing at anything unless it was in the zone. He hit the ball all over the field. I can remember against Texas in the regional he hit a line shot in the first inning that nearly decapitated their pitcher and he's in the big leagues now.

"You could just see it. Then, the injuries the next few years didn't allow him to do what he can do. What you see now is the result of hard work and determination. He might have been -- maybe not quite this good -- but close to this good if he'd been healthy the last few years.

"For him to hit in the three hole -- and I didn't know who was going to hit in the three hole -- my perfect three hole hitter is someone who doesn't strikeout much, makes good contact and can run a little bit. I'm not comparing him to George Brett, but a George Brett-type player who uses the whole field. Home runs are just gravy.

"The other day, on Sunday, we had a full count on Ben, had Scott Lyons on first base, wanted Lyons to steal, no outs, just to stay out of the double play. Ben hits it up the middle, we have first and third. They try to throw Ben out at third, then try to throw Scott out at second. Next thing you know we've got a run, a runner at third with no outs. That's good baseball. Ben put pressure on them. He's been a good three hole hitter.

"It's so hard to take him out of the lineup in these midweek games because it changes everything. There are some good players I'd like to get in there. I'm still trying to figure out what I'm going to do."

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