Van Horn Wants Improved Production

Dave Van Horn thinks the Hogs learned a few things on a five-game road swing in Louisiana. That included a tip from a former coach.

McNeese State gave Arkansas a good effort in losing a couple of one-run decisions Tuesday and Wednesday. Then, the Cowboys gave the Hogs their scouting report before the visitors got on a bus for a 10-hour ride through thunderstorms.

McNeese assistant coach Bubs Merrill told his former boss, Dave Van Horn, some things they'd noticed about the Hogs. One tip may help one of the Hogs' top young pitchers.

"Bubs said (Randall) Fant was tipping his off speed pitches," Van Horn said. "He was doing something they noticed in his delivery that tipped his change up. We were wondering because no one had done anything with his changeup and they had a hitter that was on it. He hit one out foul, then did it again a couple of pitches later. It was amazing.

"We've picked up things on other pitchers. Todd Butler is real good at that. It was good to get that information from Bubs. He helped us on a couple of things with what they had on a scouting report."

Hopefully, it helps the Hogs improve their hitting, too. Van Horn said the Hogs have some hitters that have seen their batting averages drop from .330 to the .280 range. One of them is star first baseman Andy Wilkins.

"You've noticed that on Wilkins?" Van Horn responded to a reporter's question about Wilkins. "That jumps off the paper, doesn't it. It's pretty easy to see that. Andy is one that goes on tears. He did that last year. He can get it going and explode 30 to 40 points late in the season, like he did last year. We need him to get going."

Van Horn also wants to see more from Tim Carver and Bo Bigham, two returnees in the infield. Bigham had eight strikeouts over the weekend.

"Really, about the only one of our hitters that has it going is Zack Cox," Van Horn said. "He's really learned to go the other way. He can still turn on a pitch, but he went the other way four or five times between the left side. He's going the other way a lot better than last year.

"We need Bo and Tim to help us. Matt Reynolds helped us the last two days at short. That might enable us to put one of the other middle infielders in right field. That's the position where we need to get something going. We've got one of the right fielders at .179 and the other one at .200."

Starting pitching has been solid. The middle relief had been good until the seventh inning against LSU on Saturday when Jeremy Heatley and Geoffrey Davenport struggled in a 7-run inning that blew a 5-1 lead. Van Horn worried about those two until he saw them pitch again at McNeese State.

"I think it was the case of two pitchers just not having experience on the road in the SEC," he said. "That seventh inning at LSU it was really loud. I think they got after our two pitchers pretty good. It may have been the loudest I've ever heard in a college game."

Van Horn said Heatley's outing wasn't as bad as it might have looked on paper.

"The first batter had a hit on something off the end of his bat," Van Horn said. "The next one was pounded into the dirt and bounced all the way over our head. He hit the next one.

"Davenport's was different. He was a nervous wreck. I was more concerned with how he pitched, but he came back pretty good against McNeese. I was very concerned after the game, but not after the way both came back and pitched against McNeese.

"The McNeese coach has been in the big leagues. He loved what he saw of Heatley, 91-92 with a hard slider. He just had some bad luck against LSU."

The Hogs will change their pitching rotation slightly against Alabama this weekend. Mike Bolsinger will get the nod again on Friday, but Brett Eibner will move up in the order from Sunday to Saturday. That will give Drew Smyly, the third starter, an extra day to let a blister heal.

"Drew was bleeding all over the baseball on Saturday with that blister," Van Horn said. "He's missed his bullpen this week, but he should be alright with another day of rest."

Fant may have earned himself some time on the mound this weekend with his outing against McNeese.

"I've got no problem with putting him out there on the weekend after that," Van Horn said.

However, Van Horn is concerned about another member of the pitching staff. Senior T. J. Forrest did earn a victory against McNeese with a solid bullpen outing, but he didn't make the return trip with the team. He stayed in his Benton, La., home with family to see doctors.

"He hadn't been pitching well the last two or three outings, but that's not why he went to a doctor," Van Horn said. "We wanted to get him checked out. He was sitting at his stool in front of his locker and his arm went numb and he just fell over. We thought it was a stroke. We want him to get checked real good. He might come back tomorrow. But we want him healthy. We want to see what it is."

Van Horn hopes the week-long trip to Louisiana helps his team bond.

"We need some guys to figure it out," he said. "We have some young guys who are looking at me wondering why they have only gotten five or six at bats. They haven't asked me why. I hope they do so I can tell them. They aren't ready yet.

"For instance, Kyle Robinson was in a big position this weekend. He was up with the bases loaded and we needed him to put the bat on the ball. He struck out. We needed a sac fly or something. It was his time to shine.

"We've had other guys who haven't gotten it done. We stranded a bunch on Sunday. We need to be more opportunistic. We need nine guys getting it done.

"We just haven't put it together yet.That's just the way it is sometimes with baseball. But we need to get after Alabama this weekend. We need to beat them Friday night. They've lost two in a row and we need to get it started Friday night."

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