Starting pitching still a concern for top-rated Diamond Hogs

The Arkansas Razorbacks may be sitting on top of the hill as the No. 1 team in college baseball for the moment, but Arkansas head coach Dave Van Horn has concerns about his starting pitching with six SEC series remaining in a daunting league slate.

Everything has worked out for the 28-5 Hogs thus far. The Razorbacks are tied with No. 2 Vanderbilt and No. 5 Tennessee with 9-3 marks in SEC play, going into this weekend’s three-game series with Texas A&M (20-15, 3-9 SEC).

The Hogs and Vanderbilt aren’t scheduled to face each other in the regular season, but Arkansas does make the trip to Knoxville, Tenn., May 14-16 in its next-to-last SEC series of the season.

Next up for the No. 1 Razorbacks

Opponent: Texas A&M
When: 6:30 p.m. Friday, April 16
Where: Fayetteville
Streaming: SEC Network Plus

Upcoming games

6:30 p.m. Saturday: Texas A&M – SEC Network Plus
2 p.m. Sunday: Texas A&M – SEC Network Plus

Vandy and its stud starters Jack Leiter (7-0, 0.55 ERA) and Kumar Rocker (7-1, 1.88 ERA) actually do travel to Tennessee for what should be a separation series between the two SEC East leaders.

The Razorbacks’ strength at the plate, in the field, and particularly its bullpen has allowed Arkansas to rise to the top of the SEC West, but Van Horn expressed Wednesday after a 26-1 victory over little-brother program UA Pine Bluff that his squad is in danger of wearing out its bullpen in the regular season by having to call upon it so early and often.

Some might think Van Horn is using what he can to try and keep his Razorbacks on their toes after winning their last 10 series, but Van Horn is a no-nonsense type. He doesn’t create false barriers for his players. If he expresses a concern, it’s legit.

“Our starters haven’t given us much innings, so they should have some stamina,” Van Horn said in a Zoom teleconference Wednesday. “They should have some innings built up and ready to go.”

Lefty Patrick Wicklander (1-1, 2.76 ERA) is scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m. Friday for the Hogs against A&M’s Dustin Saenez (5-3, 3.19 ERA); however, rain is in the forecast all day Friday.

Righty Peyton Pallette is scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m Saturday against Aggie right-hander Bryce Miller (2-1, 3.58 ERA), while southpaw Lael Lockhart (1-1, 4.25 ERA will get the call at 2 p.m. Sunday against A&M right-hander Nathan Dettmer (3-2, 2.43 ERA).

“Our guys have been giving us 4, 3 [innings], so we’re hoping they’re going to give us more this weekend, and we don’t have to use our bullpen so much,” Van Horn said.

The Aggies, coached by Ron Childress a longtime Van Horn assistant at Northwestern (La.) State and Nebraska, are the last SEC squad to beat the Razorbacks in a series in 2019. A&M actually holds a 46-43-1 all-time series lead on Arkansas, despite the fact the Razorbacks have won five of seven series since the Aggies joined the SEC.

Hog fans shouldn’t be confused by the Aggies’ record. They would be a dangerous team to a squad that overlooks them.“

“They were a top 25 team to start the season in most polls,” Van Horn said. “Yeah, they’re 3-9 [in SEC play] but they could easily be 9-3. We just have to play good. If you play good you give yourself a chance to win.”

The Razorbacks have been knocking the cover off the ball all season. The Hogs lead the nation with 68 home runs. Even without their eight home runs against overmatched UAPB on Wednesday, Arkansas would be one homer ahead of second place Old Dominion.

Red-White scrimmage set for Saturday

With all the excitement centered around the Arkansas Razorbacks being ranked No. 1 in baseball much of this spring, and the basketball Hogs’ Elite Eight run, spring football practice has sorta been on the back burner of the minds of some Hog fans.

Sam Pittman’s Razorbacks will put the wraps on their 15 spring practices at 2 p.m. Saturday in the Red-White scrimmage at Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Admission is free, but fans must garner an online ticket through the athletic department’s website, to attend.

The game will be also be streamed on SEC Network Plus and ESPN Plus for those unable to make it to the stadium. It is scheduled to be rebroadcast on the SEC Network at 10 a.m. Tuesday, and likely a number other times before the season starts in September.

It’s easy to appreciate the candor of Pittman, who in his second year as the Hogs’ head coach. When asked if Saturday’s scrimmage would play a key role in setting the depth chart going into fall practices, he didn’t take the opportunity to play the scrimmage up into something more than it is.

He just acknowledged that it would be accessed like any other practice or scrimmage, but said having fans in the stands would continue to help him see how his squad reacts in game-type situations.

The hope, of course, this fall will be more like normal in all areas of our lives as our society gains more and more control over the pandemic that made last season like no other Razorback football season we’ve experienced in our lives.

The UA is not just hoping but also expecting full capacity to be available for Razorback games this fall, and won’t it be a sweet sight to witness a full-capacity Hog call of 75,000 or so fans again with all our senses.

Razorback games have always been special events for me and my family, but it does become easy to take the game-day atmosphere for granted until it is drastically altered like last season’s was.

As for what should fans expect from Saturday’s scrimmage?

I’d say hard-nosed competition, but fairly vanilla looks on both sides of the football. Don’t expect offensive coordinator Kendal Briles or defensive coordinator Barry Odom to put anything too telling on video for next fall’s opponents.

The scrimmage will be about executing the basics of the offense and defense, not showing a lot of bells, whistles, and blitzes. But who knows, we might get surprised?

The scrimmage will be just a taste of what we have to look forward to next season. It’s just an opportunity to whet our whistle, if you will, until fall.

Evidently both lines have made off-season strides in terms of size, strength, and hopefully quickness. What I’d truly like to see is more physical and dominating play along both sides of the ball.

Until that happens the Hogs won’t be able to hunt with the big dogs in the SEC. At its heart, the SEC is still a line-of-scrimmage league, and until a team can maul an opponent with its offensive line and bully one with its defensive line, that squad will be playing for also-ran status.

Either way, it certainly seems the Hogs are back on firm footing thanks to the work of the players guided by Pittman and his staff. A team can build and improve on firm footing as opposed to the wishy washiness we saw under Chad Morris and the last couple of years under Bret Bielema.

Better times seem to be at hand for the Razorback football program thanks to Pittman’s direction.