State of the Hogs: Pitching

Arkansas pitching coach Dave Jorn was pleased with the first three games of the baseball season. The Hogs gave a good performance on the mound.

Most look at college baseball with an eye towards run totals and batting averages. There was a time in the history of the college game where the metal bats were lethal and it was almost impossible to get anyone out.

The bats are changing year by year. They are becoming less of a weapon and they will change again next year. Pitching has returned in an important way because of that.

None of that is lost on the Arkansas coaching staff. They've recruited better pitching, with more on the way. It will serve them well again this season and maybe even better in 2011.

So how did the Arkansas pitching hold up in a 2-1 start this weekend against a solid Ball State club?

"I thought we did fine," Arkansas pitching coach Dave Jorn said. "I was happy. For a first series and as little as we've been outside, I thought we attacked the zone and did pretty good. Obviously, we have to do a few things better, but I think we've got better stuff. I think we have to improve our mechanics out of the stretch. We saw we need work there, but this was a good start.

"I thought we competed. We did probably throw a lot of fast balls on this first weekend. We were trying to pound the zone out of the gate and we did that."

You can look at the box scores and make note of that tendency. The Hogs walked only three Cardinals batters in the three games. The Hogs, conversely, took advantage of 16 walks by Ball State pitchers.

The Hogs put four impressive arms on display Sunday. Brett Eibner led the way with three impressive innings, stepping aside after 35 pitches. He struck out the first three batters he faced. Drew Smyly had four solid innings, pitching out of a bases loaded jam with three of his five strikeouts. Jordan Pratt and Jason Fuqua pitched an inning apiece to close it out.

"Pratt made some mistakes," Jorn said. "He crossed up the catcher a few times. He'll do a better job there in the future. He was probably a little nervous. But he's got a big-time arm and you need those in the SEC.

"We left a few pitches over the plate and we'll do better there. Out of the stretch, sometimes we were a little anxious and were too quick to the plate (and gave up some stolen bases). We'll work on all of that.

"By no means are we there, but I am happy. I like the arms we have. I think we have some returning guys who are going to be real good and there is talent in that young group, too. Jeremy Heatley, who pitched Saturday, is a different pitcher. He looked very good. He lost some weight, has worked on some things. He's really talented. He looked good."

Smyly was penciled in as the Friday night starter over the winter, but didn't get a start in the opening weekend. However, that may change next weekend against a strong hitting Troy team.

"We were just trying to give him some motivation," Jorn said of Smyly not starting. "We need him in the rotation. He'll probably be there next weekend.

"What we are saying to some of our guys, you are older, we need a little more from you. Those older guys should step up. We expect that he will do that. They have the experience and they should elevate themselves above the rest." Arkansas head coach Dave Vorn said of Smyly, "He's a traditional slow starter, but we expect him to come on now."

Jorn liked Smyly's performance, especially working out of the jam with three straight strikeouts.

"You get in that situation, you want to minimize damage, get out of there with maybe one run in," Jorn said. "But to do what he did, that's really good. That was impressive. You are in that situation, you need to find some quality pitches and step up. That was a real positive for today for him.

"Overall, I liked the way we pitched. Ball State has some quality hitters. I'd say there may be at least four guys in that lineup that are quality outs. We knew that and we decided we would go ahead and challenge them. Our guys handled that and did well. I liked that out of this weekend.

"They have one guy, really a good one," Jorn said, noting Ball State three-hole hitter Kolbrin Vitek with seven hits on the weekend. "I called him Babe Ruth. We finally got him out (to end the game). But they had four legit threats and we wanted to fight hard against those guys and we did."

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