State of the Hogs: More Quality Arms

LSU has some of the top pitching in the SEC. That's nothing new for the Diamond Hogs. They've seen quality arms all season long.

Arkansas has seen almost nothing but top-flight pitching this baseball season. Most of the schedule has been against Southeastern Conference, Big 12 or Pac-10 opposition.

The Hogs will play more than 40 games against members of those three leagues this season.

Outside of the SEC, the Hogs have faced Washington State, Kansas, California, Nebraska, Arizona State and Oklahoma. That means they've seen quality arms every step of the way in an impressive 30-12 season.

There have been a lot of close games, 16 decided by one or two runs. They've won 12. That speaks to the quality of the opposition's pitching.

"Hopefully, that's going to prepare us for this late run with LSU, Alabama and Ole Miss," Arkansas batting coach Todd Butler said. "We've seen great pitching and great teams from all of these conferences."

If the Razorbacks think they've seen good pitching so far, wait until they see LSU's hurlers this weekend. Anthony Ranaudo and Louis Coleman, LSU's top two starters, lead several statistical categories in the SEC.

Austin Ross, the Sunday starter, isn't bad, either. The Tigers have a quality closer as well in Matty Ott.

If there is a silver lining, all four are right-handers. Arkansas has fared better against right-handers of late. The Hogs, like most teams in college baseball, seem to struggle against crafty left-handers.

The Hogs don't have gaudy numbers at the plate, but they've competed well, especially in late-game situations. Oklahoma, Washington State (twice), California, Kansas, Auburn, Louisiana-Monroe and others have felt a late bite from the Hogs.

"It's about timely home runs," Butler said. "I talked to a friend about that. He said it's always about when you hit home runs. We've seemed to hit them at the right time. We've had a lot of late-inning heroic swings, at-bats where we've hit the ball out of the park to win.

"In the last week, we are starting to drive the ball out of the park more. Our guys have done a good job. We played Georgia two weeks ago and saw some great arms. I walked away from that weekend pleased with the way we competed."

Georgia, then No. 1, won two of three, but the cumulative score for the weekend was 8-8.

"You always want more hits and more runs, but they might have had one more hit than we did over the weekend," Butler said. "You have to be tough mentally and compete. That's our goal, to compete. The guys have done that of late, had some great two-strike at-bats."

LSU and Georgia have comparable pitching.

"Ranaudo is 6-foot-7, he's going to be 92 to 95 (mph), he has a power breaking ball that is 80-84," Butler said. "He has great stuff, it's Major-League. He's striking out people. I watched the Auburn video; he struck out 15.

"He's going to elevate the fastball and we have to stay down, make him bring it down in the zone and work the pitch count."

Butler called Coleman "possibly the best competitor in the SEC."

The good news is that the Hogs have one more arm available. Interestingly, it has an LSU connection. Juco transfer T. J. Forrest, ready after taking a weekend off with some arm soreness, played at LSU as a freshman before going down with Tommy John surgery.

Butler, then head coach at McNeese State, has known Forrest since he was a sophomore in high school.

"I recruited him, but it's tough when you are at McNeese State to try to get the No. 1 pitcher in the state away from LSU," Butler said. "You heard his name flying from one end of the state to the other.

"I always kept up with him and heard what a great kid he was, and competitor. He had the surgery and ended up leaving LSU.

"We were very fortunate. You knew because of his past, and his very makeup, you wanted him. I look for him to really keep coming on as the season progresses."

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